Observers agree that the meeting between American President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that is to be held on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, this coming Friday and Saturday will be an event of great importance and consequence for the current global situation, especially in the Middle East, and Syria in particular.
The time has come for Moscow to harvest the fruits of its Arab gamble, or at least this is what Moscow hopes. In order to understand what will be at the heart of the conversation between the two presidents, it is necessary to understand the significance of the direct intervention of Russian warplanes in the Syrian conflict that began in the fall of 2015. Russian involvement in Syria was also accompanied by Russian intervention in other Arab countries, such as Libya, where Russia joined the current alliance between Egypt's Abd al-Fatah al Sisi and the United Arab Emirates. Indeed, Moscow exploited the historic opportunity provided by an American president, Barack Obama, who to a great extent was afraid of military entanglement. (Although, he made up for this fear by intensive use of drones, the most cowardly of weapons.) In fact, during Obama's last year in office, American leaders experienced a high level of paralysis, especially when it came to military choices.
Therefore, Putin, the chess player, decided to advance his pieces on the Arab board because this improved his chances on the European and international boards. Moreover, in reality, the risk was limited, since Putin knew full well that the United States does not care about Moscow's defense of the Assad regime on whose behalf Russia intervened. Putin also knew that the United States is indifferent to the Syrian situation in its entirety, except with regards to the Islamic State, which directly challenged America when it seized Iraqi territory in 2014. America then decided to fight the Islamic State group using Kurdish forces. (It is well known that America is much more interested in Iraq than Syria because its degree of interest in countries of the region is commensurate with the country's oil wealth and strategic position with regard to regional oil stores.)
As for Putin's venture into direct intervention in the Syrian war, it is primarily economically motivated since Russia is unable to wage a high intensity and costly war for a long period of time while its economy is suffering from a decrease in oil imports. The drop in oil imports is a result of the oil price reduction war that Saudi Arabia has been waging on Iran and Russia for three years with the encouragement of the United States. The connection between Russia's involvement in Syria and Russia's economic interests lies here, for the main goal of Putin's gambling-like venture in Syria is the end of this economic war.
The situation since the fall of 2015 has changed in a way that perfectly suits the Russian gamble in Syria. Of course, the most important event in this respect was the ascension of Trump to the American presidency. Trump is an admirer of Putin and intends to not only cooperate with him but is relying on Putin to help forcibly re-establish the old reactionary regime in the Arab world. This is Trump's main desire and the fundamental reason why he gave the green light for the Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian attack on Qatar, whom these countries accuse of supporting the Arab Spring and attempting to control it by means of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jazeera. And, of course, Trump realizes that the old reactionary regime cannot be reconstituted in the Arab world without ending the Syrian war and supporting the current government in Damascus, which is the main foundation for the Syrian regime.
Therefore, Trump does not care if Bashar Assad continues to rule Syria, even though Trump previously called him an animal and is convinced that a "lion" of this kind is easy to tame. Further, the tripartite Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian alliance agrees with this analysis, and, in fact, Egypt's Sisi re-established relations with the Syrian regime some time ago. We also recall that Saudi Arabia waited a long time before entering into a competition with Qatar over managing the Syrian opposition. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is certainly prepared to accept a bargain that keeps Assad in power, in accordance with America's position, which has enjoyed a broad consensus among Western nations since it was adopted by the new French president, Emmanuel Macron.
However, there is a great obstacle on the road to a Russian and American agreement on Syria, not to mention Saudi approval of any such agreement. This obstacle's name is Iran. The intense hostility of Iran is the most significant issue that the United States has encountered in the age of Trump and Riyadh (and behind them the state of Israel, of course). This hostility governs their common policies in the region. Therefore, the two capitals will not accept the continuation of Assad's regime if it is not accompanied by a plan that leads to the removal of the Iranian military presence and its affiliates from Syrian territory.
In addition, the United States and Riyadh know that realizing the removal of Iran from Syria requires Russian cooperation, for it would be difficult and even crazy for Iran to enter into a confrontation with both America and Russia if the two countries agree, and with them the U.N. Security Council, on an agreement that demands the exit of Iranian forces and its affiliates from Syria.
As such, the fate of the American-Russian dialogue will depend on what concessions the United States is able to offer Moscow for the sake of convincing Russia to oblige with American requests. And Russia will be looking to see what it can gain from these concessions, not least because Moscow is intent on forcing Saudi Arabia to end the long period of low oil prices. As for Iran, Tehran might find in this deal economic restitution for its losses in Syria; at least, the pragmatic reformist wing in the Iranian regime that the current president Hassan Rouhani leads might be convinced of that. However, that would increase tensions between the pragmatic reformist wing and the ideological-military wing, which includes the Revolutionary Guard forces which enjoy the favor of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.