In the midst of consideration of the US-Russia deal for a ceasefire in Syria, Randa Slim offers some thoughts on a core issue: is Russia prepared to push out President Assad for the sake of a political resolution? Slim has some inside information for the assessment. As she writes in Foreign Policy, “Since 2012, I have participated in multilateral and bilateral Track II Dialogues on the Syrian conflict” where “the principal area of disagreement is the status of Assad”.

Those conversation lead her to believe that Moscow is not wedded to Assad’s personal future — but it wants to ensure that a stable system, with elements of the current regime, is in place:

Russia rejects the concept of ousting Assad not because it believes its interests in Syria are best served by keeping him in place, but because it is not confident it can secure an orderly transition….

It is the question of who would replace him — and how to achieve this transition without it devolving into chaos — that tops their list of concerns. Play a word association game with them and the phrase “managed transition in Syria” conjures up three words: Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan.

Russian officials believe that any attempt at leadership change in Damascus through a military intervention would fail and lead to chaos: à la Iraq post-2003 and Libya in 2011. They argue that Middle Eastern societies cannot be democratized and that outside forces, especially the United States, are the least capable agents to effectuate democratic change in the region.

So how will that stable system be reached? There is vagueness in Slim’s description of “a power-sharing arrangement between Syria’s different political and societal components — including Assad”. More precise is the proposal of a transition led by the Syrian armed forces:

Moscow believes the Syrian military can, if given enough time, engineer and guarantee this arrangement. One preferred scenario for the Russian generals is the installation of a military council to oversee a transition period in Syria, akin to the February 2011 takeover by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Egypt.

And — whether or not Assad remains in the picture — that is where the problems begin. Slim notes, “The Syrian army — battered by five years of war and increasingly eclipsed by the foreign militias fighting on Assad’s side — is in no condition to play the central role in a political transition that Moscow envisions.”

She also assesses that the supposed transition is far from one which is inclusive of all factions in Syria’s conflicts: “Moscow still does not see a role for the Free Syrian Army in this military council and has not sufficiently thought through how it can force the armed opposition groups to accept this proposal.”

Maybe most importantly, there is the barrier that has stood since the beginning of the Syrian uprising: President Assad and his inner circle:

The Assad family has been ruthless in eliminating anyone they suspect of being a contender for power. It will be very hard to entice Syrian generals to get on board with this idea — they would be risking their lives.

Slim does not offer any solution for these challenges: “Nobody should expect the regime in Damascus to change: Time and again, Bashar al-Assad has proved that he will not transition himself out of power.”

Instead, she points to the ongoing, growing cost for Russia — even as it puts itself at the forefront of the political process and tries to change the balance of power with its military intervention — of its involvement:

The cost of the Russian military intervention in Syria, in both lives and rubles, has so far been manageable. However, as the campaign reaches its one-year mark, officials in Moscow are increasingly concerned about the mission timeline. They have been down that path before in Afghanistan, and they do not want to find themselves again fighting an endless war on behalf of an unreliable local ally. They worry that as time passes, the cost-benefit ledger in Syria will no longer be in their favor.

Moscow also understands that absent an international “buy-in” for a credible political transition plan, funding will not be available for any post-conflict reconstruction of Syria. And Russia, which is currently laboring under international sanctions, is not interested in footing the reconstruction bill itself.