Russian Presidential Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday to discuss the latest developments in Syria. The meeting came as Ankara posted the first photos of Russia’s S-400 air defense equipment arriving in Turkey. Turkey has backed opposition to Assad, but Moscow – an ally of the Syrian regime – is now growing closer to Ankara. For Assad therefore, the Russian visit was important to shore up relations with Moscow and discuss the next moves in Idlib, where extremists and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army still hold a large area of Syria.
Lavrentyev was accompanied by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, according to Russia’s Tass News Agency. They discussed Idlib and the establishment of a “Constitutional Committee,” Russia said."The meeting focused on efforts towards the soonest completion of the formation of the Constitutional Committee and its launch as a major step in encouraging the political process carried out by the Syrians under United Nations mediation, as envisaged in the resolutions of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The official statements from Russia were general and typical. Syria’s SANA state media also reported the visit. It said that efforts were made to make progress on the political track. Damascus is concerned about Idlib and the continued fighting there between the regime’s army and the rebels. Syria’s army has been fighting since 2011, and the regime clearly wants a road map to how it will return all or parts of Idlib to government control. SANA says that Syria wants to protect its citizens and meet any “provocations by the terrorist groups in Idlib.” But Syria knows that it can’t launch an offensive without Russia’s backing. Now Moscow is working closely with Ankara and can’t risk the S-400 deal. So what is the other side of the deal: Could the S-400 mean that Turkey may make concessions in Idlib, where its forces have observation posts? Or is the Russian deal with Turkey that the S-400 will now cement Turkish control of northern Syria? Damascus surely wants to know.
Meanwhile, Russia says its air defense in northern Syria’s principal port city of Latakia repelled a drone attack from Idlib. This will heighten tensions between Russia and Idlib as well.