Russian officials have stated that it is Moscow’s desire to see the rapid withdrawal of foreign troops from Syrian soil as soon as possible. This includes not only troops operating in Syria contrary to the wishes of the Syrian government but also Iranian troops and their PMU and Hezbollah allies that are legally fighting terrorism in the Syrian Arab Republic. Furthermore, in respect of Syria’s current anti-terror operations surrounding the south-western city of Daraa, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear that Russia is communicating closely with the US, Jordan and “Israel” regarding the current Syrian and allied troop movements in the region.
On the 30th of May, Lavrov stated,
“As regards the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria, we have agreements on the southwestern de-escalation zone, these agreements have been reached between Russia, the United States and Jordan. Israel was informed about them as we were working on them. They [agreements] stipulate that this de-escalation zone should consolidate stability, while all non-Syrian forces must be withdrawn from this area. And I think that this should happen as soon as possible”.
Clearly, the stated goal of Moscow is to reach an agreement where the US and its allies will not attempt to hinder the Syrian operation in Daraa and surrounding areas but as part of the deal, no Iranian, Lebanese (Hezbollah) or other non-Syrian troops will be allowed to partake in the operation. This is part of a larger agreement that Moscow struck with Tel Aviv whereby upon the withdrawal of Iranian and Hezbollah troops from Syria, “Israel” would refrain from its increasingly frequent acts of aggression on Syrian territory and de-facto/private acknowledge from Tel Aviv that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria (aka violent regime change will be off the table for the first time in decades so far as Tel Aviv is concerned).
The fact that hours ago, Tel Aviv launched a small missile strike aimed at Damascus airport means that the deal between Moscow and Tel Aviv has yet to be acted upon let alone acknowledged by either Iran or Hezbollah, with the latter maintaining that it has no plans to vacate Syrian territory.
As part of Russia’s strategy to attain a balanced peace settlement in Syria with a related overarching aim of balancing competing regional rivalries, it goes without saying that Moscow is perturbed by the slow progress of the much sought Iran/Hezbollah withdrawal from the Arab Republic. While the issue is almost certainly being discussed behind closed doors, Russian media outlets are already demonstrating that when it comes to soft power, Russia can more easily project any given narrative than Iranian media. With Iran in danger of the European Union allowing the JCPOA (aka Iran nuclear deal) to collapse under severe pressure from the United States, Iran will require a stronger Russian partnership than ever. In this sense, both politically and in terms of soft power, Russia is able to exert pressure on Iran, while Iran can scarcely exert pressure on Russia.
Against this backdrop, a clear pattern has emerged in official Russian media outlets that seeks to paint a less than joyous image of Iranian society. Last week RT (formerly known as Russia Today) posted a video on its social media accounts called “Iranian women enjoying freedom at World Cup”
The video showed Iranian women in Moscow, most of whom were not wearing the hijab (as mandated by Iranian law) and gave a not so subtle impression that whereas in Iran many football matches are sex-segregated, in Russia Iranian women enjoy the benefits of “freedom”.
Around the same time, RT produced a mini-documentary on an Iranian woman expressing her excitement due to being able to watch her national team compete in Moscow with the subtext being that she was previously miserable because she cannot do the same in Iran. Notably, during the interview, instead of wearing a traditional Iranian headscarf, she was wearing an intentionally comical hat that is atypical of the dress code enforced by Iranian authorities.
On the 24th of June, RT’s sister outlet Sputnik ran a story on the social media fame that a female Iranian football supporter attending the World Cup in Russia has earned due to showing photos of herself with that Sputnik called a “naked belly”. The report which also showed images of a lightly dressed woman whose ID badge (also visible) showed her photographed in a dark headscarf, was yet another clear attempt to portray Russia’s lack of an official national dress code in a favourable light vis-a-vis the regulations in place in Iran. Furthermore, day earlier, RT’s World Cup website ran a story that retired Spanish footballer Carles Puyol was dis-invited from an interview on Iranian television because his long hair ran contrary to the official dress code of the Islamic Republic.
— Sports.ru (@sportsru) June 23, 2018
Finally, on the 25th of June, Sputnik ran a story which served as a follow-up to an earlier item in the ultra-Zionist Jerusalem Post which shed a negative light on Muslim organisations in Europe allegedly collecting donations for Hezbollah.
When taken in totality, one can logically surmise that the steady stream of stories in official Russian media outlets which are subtly anti-Iranian are not coincidental. It would appear that someone is sending a message to Iran at a time when the country is facing an internal economic crisis in the wake of the JCPOA’s seemingly inevitable collapse, that it cannot afford to lose the trust of Russia.
It this pattern continues throughout Iran’s stint at the World Cup, there will be no room for doubt as to the intentions behind the news items in question. While such stories are not unusual in outlets funded by or loyal to western neo-liberal regimes, when similar stories emanate from official Russian outlets, it becomes obvious that Russia is telling Iran that when it comes to cooperation in both Syria and over economic ties in a post-JCPOA world – it take two to tango.