Russian forces deployed in Syria have begun to make incursions into the eastern part of the country, with most activity concentrated in Deir Ezzor province, a local activist said.
This area is the main stronghold of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliated militias, Syrian journalist Mohammed al-Abdullah said, noting that the Russian expansion threatens Iran's influence in this area.
"Some time ago, Russian forces began to engage in new activities in eastern Syria, and specifically in the cities of Deir Ezzor and al-Mayadeen," he told Diyaruna.
Russian military police were observed conducting stepped-up patrols on the main highway leading to Deir Ezzor city, he said, describing this as an "unprecedented move".
Russian forces have not conducted such patrols since 2017, he said, since that region is largely under the control of the IRGC and affiliated militias.
In the last week of April, Russian forces entered al-Mayadeen, where they took down all the flags of the IRGC and its affiliated militias, he said, noting that a number of Russian journalists were seen in the area at that time.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Russian media delegation took part in a photo-opportunity tour in the area, as part of a Russian effort to show the area is free of Iranian and Iran-aligned forces.
Iran-aligned forces reposition
Iranian and Iran-affiliated forces withdrew to outside the city limits and repositioned themselves at newly-built posts, al-Abdullah said.
These forces are still positioned at their new posts, while the Russian forces are still roaming the city and its environs on a daily basis, he said.
"Russian military activity on the ground has been accompanied by political activity undertaken by the Russian forces, who are engaging tribal representatives in a very obvious recruitment operation," al-Abdullah said.
The situation could escalate between Russia and Iran, he added, if the Russian expansion continues in this fashion, as it threatens Iran's interests and agenda.
Iran has spent enormous amounts of money in pursuit of this agenda to win over civilians, providing them with in-kind and financial aid and supporting affiliated militias, whose members were brought in from several countries.