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Putin appoints third special envoy to Syria

Putin's decision to appoint a new special envoy for developing relations with Syria likely has several aims, including to balance military and diplomatic involvement in Russia's Syria policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attend a meeting in Damascus, Syria January 7, 2020. Picture taken January 7, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC2IBE9TXXCM
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Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed Moscow’s ambassador in Damascus, Alexander Efimov, as his special envoy for developing relations with Syria on May 25. It is a newly created post and an addition to the two already existing envoys working with Damascus, the Kremlin’s special envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and its special presidential envoy on the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Efimov will keep his job as Syrian ambassador, a position he has held since 2018. Prior to the assignment, Efimov spent five years as Russia's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

Efimov’s appointment can be viewed through two lenses. First, it may serve to help the Kremlin find the right balance between the diplomatic and military segments of Russia’s foreign policy team overseeing Syria. Lavrentiev, until recently the only presidential representative focused exclusively on the Syrian dossier, is generally associated with the military side. His mission has involved hashing out compromises in negotiations with Turkey and Israel as well as the creation and management of the so-called “de-escalation zones” mandated by the Astana and Sochi agreements, the purpose of which being to essentially fragment the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Lavrentiev has also been trying to nudge Assad into making symbolic concessions necessary to keep the Constitution Committee's work afloat.

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