The Russian engineering corps has started building a new base in southeastern Syria at a small village called Khirbet Ras Al-Wa’r in the Bir al-Qasab district. Until now, Moscow adhered to a policy of restricting its military presence to the western part of the country along the Mediterranean coast; no Russian troops were based further east than Palmyra.
The new facility is the first to be established since Moscow’s initial military intervention in the Syrian war in September, 2015. DEBKAfile’s military sources say it will provide Russia with a lever of control over the volatile Syrian southeast and its borders, where US-backed and Iranian-backed forces are fighting for dominance. . Russian forces will also stand closer than ever before to the Israeli border – 85 kilometers from central Golan and 110 kilometers from southern Golan, not far from IDF military positions.
The new Russian foothold will be located strategically 96 kilometers from northern Jordan and 185 kilometers from the American and Jordanian special forces garrison at the al-Tanf crossing inside the Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi border triangle.
Placing the new base just 50 kilometers from Damascus serves another primary function, that of securing the strategic crossroads leading from eastern and southern Syria to the capital – in other words, propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Our intelligence sources note that construction on the new Russian base began concurrently with the resumption his week of secret US-Russian talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman. They are led by Michael Ratney, the special US envoy for Syrian affairs and Aleksandr Lavrentiev, for Moscow.
There were reports on Thursday, June 22 of a trilateral accord reached between the US, Russia and Jordan for creating a demilitarized zone in southern Syria, that would also cover the Israeli and Jordanian borders. DEBKAfile sources assert that no such accord has been reached. According to our information, the Russians put on the table a three-part plan for de-conflicting the incendiary situation in southeast Syria. We can reveal its main points:
1. American forces will continue to hold the al-Tanf crossing. In return, they will agree to Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces capturing from ISIS – and holding – the border town of Abu Kamal, further to the north.
2. Moscow will guarantee the withdrawal of Iranian troops, pro-Iranian militias and Hizballah forces from southeastern Syria region at some point in the process.
3. A joint US-Russian administration will be established to conduct the day-to-day affairs of southeastern Syria, including the areas along the Israeli and Jordanian borders.
Washington has so far turned Moscow down on this plan for two reasons: First, the Syrian army’s conquest of Abu Kamal would strengthen Iran’s grip on the Syria-Iraq border area, the prevention of which is a primary US objective. And second, the Americans want Iranian and Hizballah forces out of the region before any other steps are taken – instead of later, as per the Russian guarantee. This, the Russian negotiators were not prepared to concede.