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Moscow, Damascus shadowbox in Syria’s grey zones

The newest twist in Syria involves a Russian-backed military group working to carve out an autonomous zone for itself in the southwest and even clashing with regime forces, perhaps paradoxically seeking to boost regime's legitimacy.
A Syrian civilian walks past a shell hole after Syrian government forces recently recaptured the village of Ghariyah ash Sharqiyah from the rebels, in the province of Daraa, on July 4, 2018. - Syrian rebels were facing a deadline Wednesday in negotiations with regime ally Russia to either agree to tough surrender terms in the south or come under a renewed military onslaught. (Photo by Youssef KARWASHAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read YOUSSEF KARWASHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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The longer the Syrian war continues, the more paradoxes have sprung up out of it. The latest involves the Moscow-backed military group striving to carve out an autonomous zone for itself in southwestern Syria and even clashing with the regime forces.

By offering its backing to the formation, the Russians, once the guarantors that those southwest territories would remain solidly under President Bashar al-Assad’s control, are now trying to kill two birds with one stone. They seek to both contain the Iranian influence near the Israeli border and quash any signs of dissent that emerged following the "reconciliation." For all practical purposes, it is highly unlikely that Russia-backed formation — comprising former rebels and acting autonomously from Assad’s forces — can ever form the backbone of the renewed armed services. Even so, Russia’s backing may yield some benefit by making the upcoming Syrian elections in 2021 appear more democratic.

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