By Yuri Barmin
At the close of the summer, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made a tour of the Middle East, visiting Gulf monarchies as well as Jordan.
The visits came at a time when Moscow is hoping to make a final push towards solidifying the idea of de-escalation zones in Syria and revitalizing political dialogue.
However, it was not only the war in Syria that brought Lavrov to the Middle East. As Russia intensifies its efforts to make its return to the region lasting, it continues to seek new opportunities to make its stay there relevant as well.
To that end, Moscow made a cautious attempt to market itself as a mediator in the intra-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) rift and may have finally secured an official visit to Russia by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian war has arguably reached a critical juncture when the shrinking territorial control of Daesh urges new attempts at political dialogue. The Syrian army has broken the siege of Deir Ez-Zour after its three-year blockade and is now pushing back against Daesh.
The Russian military claims that Bashar al-Assad has won 85 percent of the Syrian territory back from extremist groups.
Against the backdrop of territorial gains by the Syrian government, Russia is approaching a new round of Astana talks that, according to the country’s officials, may result in a breakthrough with regards to the most complex de-escalation zone in Idlib.
This is an impression that Moscow got a long time ago and is one it is looking to capitalize on.
In this context, during his trip to the Gulf, Lavrov was mostly in "listening mode", enjoying the opportunity of hearing from the Sunni monarchies what their new policy, faced with the fact of Assad’s coming victory, is going to be.
One of the issues discussed in the Gulf was the prospect of the consolidation of various groups of the Syrian opposition under a united front that could speak with one voice in Geneva.
Visiting Abu Dhabi in late August, Minister Lavrov explained that “when Saudi Arabia came forward with the initiative of uniting the HNC [Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee]... the Cairo group and the Moscow group, we actively supported this idea”.
This is the move that Moscow anticipated for a long time and has been arguably preparing for by nurturing tamed opposition groups alternative to the Saudi-backed groups.
Now that Saudi Arabia recognizes that the outcome of the Syrian war will not be in its favor, it is looking to amplify its bargaining power by unifying various opposition groups under one umbrella.
Russia does not necessarily see it as a negative development for its strategy in Syria, because this way Moscow gets a say on the agenda of the unified opposition through having its long-time allies, such as Qadri Jamil, embedded in this group.
Russia, however, by allowing Saudi Arabia to amplify its voice in political talks, is probably looking far beyond the coming talks in Geneva.
The issue of how to legitimize the outcome of the Syrian conflict is something the Russian government has yet to wrap its mind around.
By maintaining a high level of engagement of Saudi Arabia and other countries in negotiating political modalities of the Syrian settlement, Moscow seeks to internationalize the responsibility for the future of the country as well as share the costs of its reconstruction.
The last thing Russian policy makers want at this point is to inherit a destroyed Syria whose reconstruction would have no financial returns for Moscow.
In private conversations, senior Russian diplomats go as far as to argue that the world should not expect the Kremlin to foot the Syrian reconstruction bill.
In the settlement of the Syrian crisis, whose contours are already largely visible, there is one variable that stands out, which is Iran and its role in the post-conflict Syria.
In the context of the ongoing bargain over Syria, Saudi Arabia is making overtures to Moscow, demonstrating
According to Russian officials, Riyadh has finally green-lighted Salman’s visit to Moscow in October this year, having rescheduled it several times in the past.
Apart from agreeing to a consensus on the issue of oil cuts with Russia, Saudi Arabia has over the past months expressed willingness to cooperate with Moscow on a wide spectrum of issues, from investments to arms deals.
As per Russian officials, Salman's Moscow trip, which is to be accompanied by a string of lucrative contracts, should signify a new era in the relations
These extraordinary efforts to reach out to the Kremlin are indicative of Riyadh's attempts to position itself as a new strategic partner for Russia in the Middle East and to rid Iran of its main diplomatic backer in the world arena.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.