The increasing tensions in Eastern Europe seem to continue, not only in Donbass were both sides accuse each other of escalating the conflict. It seems likely however that Kiev is trying to piecemeal change facts on the ground after Trump´s election in the USA and the anticipated improvements in Russian-American relations. The latter can already be seen in Syria were there now seems to be a function cooperation against ISIS, particularly at the al-Bab front although there are still considerable tensions between Ankara-supported groups and the Syrian government. The relations between Ankara and Moscow have however improved considerably from a situation on brink of open war to a situation were Erdoğan after the attempted coup against him last year has realized that he can´t afford to be at ill terms with both the West as well as Russia. Moscow’s relations with it´s western neighbors, apart from those already poor with Ukraine and Moldova, seems however to deteriorate further with diplomatic relations between Minsk and Moscow becoming more frosty. Lukashenko, often referred to as the last dictator of Europe, has come under increasing Russian bad will although Belarus has historically been at good terms with both Russia and Ukraine. The Maidan coup against Yanukovych which Russia replied to with the annexation of the Crimea and supporting the pro-Russian rebels rising in Donbass has however led Lukashenko to become increasingly fearful of a potential future hybrid war with Belarus´s powerful neighbor to the East. The events in Ukraine, Russia’s implementation of border controls and sharp drop in Belorussian economy, that is highly dependent on trade with Russia, has led Belarus to seek better relations with the West and most sanctions have also been lifted, even tough Belarus is far from a democracy.
It is highly unlikely however that Russia would be interested in a military venture in Belarus without a significant change in Belarus´s relations with the West. For the moment the Kremlin has it´s hands full with the situation in Donbass and in Syria. There have been some rather interesting reports and speculations coming out of Syria as of late however. That the personal relations between Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin can be described as frosty at best is no secret, Russian interests in the country lies foremost in it´s self-interest far more than bolstering al-Assad personally. Russia has the intention of improving it´s naval facility in Tartus to become a full fledged naval base. This makes perfect sense since the Black Sea Navy can easily be locked in by NATO by simply checking the narrow Bosporus Strait. A strong naval presence in the Mediterranean would thus substantially improve Russia’s strategic position and capability to project military force and safeguard Moscow’s geopolitical interests. To this can be added the vastly improved relations between Russia and Egypt that has recreated the ties that were cut by Sadat. The Kremlin reportedly also has plans for a stationary Air Force presence at Khmeimim, something which is also quite understandable in order to provide air cover for the naval facilities in Tartus.
Russia’s decision to intervene in Syria has also economic dimensions. The Gulf States were planning a gas pipeline from the Gulf, through Syrian territory, after a toppling of the Baath regime that is, and then further through Turkey and to the European market. This would of course be intolerable for Russia since this would compete with Russia’s economic interest and also seriously damage Moscow’s political influence in Europe.
al-Assad´s other ally, Iran, which Russia also has good relations with, do however have their own interests in Syria, interests that not necessarily coincide with Kremlin´s. The civil war in Syria has become very much sectarian, a war between Shia and Sunni and thus a war by proxy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While Russian interests primarily serve to secure Moscow´s interests Iran on their behalf needs Syria in order to secure their influence into Lebanon and the Hezbollah in order to be able to project military power against Israel by proxy. Thus Iran are more interested to secure total victory for the Alawite side rather than Russia´s willingness to be more pragmatic with an opening for a political settlement. In that way Moscow is far more likely to come to terms with in these matters a more pragmatic administration in Washington. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidential election this would diffidently be out of the question since her agenda was depose al-Assad at all costs. However the animosity in Washington towards Teheran doesn’t appear to have lessened, on the contrary.
In the midst of the civil war rumors coming out of Syria in late January that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had sought to depose Bashar a-Assad in order to install his brother Maher instead. Wheter this is true or not it is becoming more evident that the common front against ISIS and other islamist groups seemingly might not be as tightly knitted as first thought.
When it comes to geopolitical interests it is true that there is nothing new in an ever changing world. Your own interests always comes first as Machiavelli once put it..