Dr. Massoud Saadollahi: The first problem between us and the Russians took place in December 2016. Perhaps it is the first this is said on IRIB. That is because you asked me to talk directly. It was the final days of liberating the shrine. Things were for certain and the armed forces who were all Takfiri were being defeated in eastern Aleppo. Suddenly it was announced in the media that Russia and Turkey had reached an agreement over ceasefire in eastern Aleppo; there was going to be a ceasefire and the armed forces with their families who were about 35,000 people could get out of Aleppo and head towards Idlib. This was a shock to both the Syrian government and us. The Syrian government was the host. How come there were an agreement without informing Syrian government? It seemed strange to us, too, who were involved in the scene. Immediately the ceasefire was enforced, and the first group of armed forces exited Aleppo. Suddenly there was heavy pressure by the public opinion, saying ‘if there is going to be a ceasefire, why shouldn’t we get any concession in return?’ They were fighting to the last second. And now they were getting easily on buses and going? At the same time, al-Fu’ah and Kafriya were under siege. 30 to 40 thousand innocent people were under siege. On the second day, General Soleimani issued an order to stop the exit of armed forces. And IRGC stopped their exit.
Host: It means that they prevented Turkey and Russia.
–Both countries were shocked, as armed forces were returned. In so far as there wouldn’t be any agreement and concession, we wouldn’t allow them to exit. The exchange operation was halted for a couple of days. In those days, there was a heavy pressure on Islamic Republic and Mr. Lavrov, Russia foreign minister, and Turkish foreign minister constantly called Mr. Zarif. The issue even reached UN Security Council that Iranians and IRGC had stopped the exit of armed forces. After a couple of days, they realized that these pressures were useless. And if they would give any concessions, the exit plan wouldn’t be enforced.
Host: It means that it would be impossible without gaining General Soleimani’s approval.
–It became clear for Russians and the entire world that perhaps Iran per se couldn’t create a solution, but it could prevent any other solution. And this was very important. You asked about Iran’s position. Here they realized that Iran can disrupt the game. And interestingly enough, after the exit of armed forces, Turkish foreign minister was supposed to go to Moscow to form a political process which would involve those two countries.
Host: What was Syrian government’s view?
–Let me finish my point. These two countries were going to reach an agreement. What happened in Aleppo changed the bilateral to trilateral agreement. Mr. Lavrov invited Mr. Zarif to go as well, as they saw that it was impossible to ignore Iran. Mr. Zarif went, and since then, the issue of Astana and Astana process was formed. If you are strong in the field and have something to say, then they will have to respect you and take you into account. But if you show weakness and are weak, no one will take you [seriously]. In the world, the logic of power rules. It is not the logic of law. So things turned around from here.
[Dr. Massoud Saadollahi, Iranian analyst of west Asia’s affairs, talks of the first disagreement between Iran and Russia in Syria over ceasefire in Aleppo, and how IRGC Quds Force Qassem Soleimani interrupted Aleppo ceasefire to impose Iran on the peace process in Syria.]