Putin’s Delicate Game in Syria

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ardeshir Zarei Ghanavati
Expert on International Relations & Foreign Policy

Russia’s air strikes against the positions of Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria have hit the headlines in media circles and among political analysts during recent days. In parallel with the expansion of air raids by Russia, there has been also a rising wave of criticism and opposition from Western and Arab countries as well as Turkey against Moscow’s targets and the damage to their allied groups in the Arab country. So far, the Russian president has been playing a delicate political chess in Syria on the strength of such clear and proven principles as international security, regional stability, fighting terrorist threats, as well as legal agreements it has signed with the Syrian government, and most importantly, the official call from the legitimate government in Damascus to intervene against terrorist groups. In the meantime, the Western-Arab coalition has been insisting on applying its double standards by dividing terrorism in Syria into bad terrorism and good terrorism, as a result of which they have been pushed into a defensive position in Syria and are showing nervous reactions. The Western-Arab coalition is taking an extremely critical position on Moscow at a time that before Russia’s air strikes, their own politicians and mainstream international media had admitted that there were no signs of moderate and democracy-seeking groups in this crisis-stricken country.

According to available information, Americans dispatched forces to Syria on two occasions based on their premeditated plan. On the first occasion, all those so-called volunteer forces either joined al-Nusra Front or were taken into captivity, while on the second occasion, the volunteer forces delivered half of their military vehicles and one-fourth of their advanced American weapons to al-Nusra Front without even entering the war. Following this scandal, senior military commanders at Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been clearly announcing the failure of the program and implying that it would be stopped. Under these circumstances, the Russian Air Force has intensified its planned attacks on terrorist groups in various regions of Syria, thus creating new equations in this crisis, which are sure to cause basic changes in political and military arenas of Syria.

There is no doubt that the goals of Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin will go far beyond fighting Daesh, because Russia’s doctrine is based on the binary of fighting terrorism and preserving Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government as the sole substitute and dominant force in the face of terrorism. In the ongoing geopolitical faceoff between Russia and Western-Arab axis, the main question is what possible forces apart from Daesh and al-Nusra Front would be able to substitute Assad’s government under current circumstances and in view of the existing realities in the country? Putin has given a simple answer to this question based on the priority of the secular Baathist government of Syria over the other possible substitutes, and is acting in line with this political notion. On the opposite, US President Barak Obama and his Western counterparts in the existing coalition have not only failed to give a logical answer to this question, but have also lacked latitude and ability to change conditions through desirable political maneuvering. As a result of insisting on their past positions, they have practically stripped themselves of any constructive movement they could have made. The situation of the United States’ regional allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar is also quite clear. Today, not only the international public opinion, but even many Western leaders have explicitly owned up to unconstructive role of these countries, which have been at times in cahoots with terrorists of Daesh and other jihadist groups in Syria.

On the other hand, due to complicated conditions in Syria and as the objective realities on the ground and in the battlefield indicate, there is no reliable alternative and moderate force to replace the Syrian government. As a result, and in the light of the disastrous experience in Libya, no powerful Western state seems possible to take the risk of a repeat of that strategic error. Putin has entered the political and military game of Syria under these conditions and is trying, in coordination with Assad’s government to change the existing equations on the basis of the political logic and the situation in the battlefield, and has achieved some of his main goals in the early stages of his intervention. There is no doubt about the allegation by the Western-Arab axis that the goal of Moscow from entering the Syria conflict is to support Assad and preserve his government. This is true because in military terms, with the presence of Russian forces, the possibility of Syrian army being defeated and the country’s government being toppled is out of the question. Also, in political terms, following the entry of Russia into Syria’s conflicts, any kind of foreign military attack on Assad’s government would be considered an international declaration of war and direct confrontation with Russia.

Under these conditions, instead of criticizing and opposing Russia and the new conditions that have come about, is it better for Western-Arab axis to try to get the consent of Russia and other allies of Syria like Iran, Iraq and the Lebanese Hezbollah through negotiations in order to make them accept a “roadmap” for political process of national reconciliation and establishment of a transitional government. Under circumstances that previous strategies aimed at forceful elimination of Assad from power have failed, the opposition forces supported by Western-Arab coalition are in deadlock, and Russia has appeared determined to change the existing equations, common sense calls for a more constructive policy based on political reconciliation to be put on the agenda of all actors involved in this crisis in order to protect international security, regional stability and territorial integrity of Syria. Both domestic and foreign anti-Assad coalitions must give in to this reality that under present conditions, the only way out of the crisis is through categorical and fundamental fight against terrorism, and Syrian government must be a main partner to any plan for the country’s period of transition. Achievement of this goal would not be possible unless through a strategic understanding among international hegemonic powers and a practical agreement among regional powers.

Key Words: Vladimir Putin, Game, Syria, Russia, Air Strikes, Bashar Assad, Daesh, Terrorist Groups, Western-Arab Coalition, Period of Transition, Iran, Iraq, Lebanese Hezbollah, Barak Obama, Zarei Ghanavati

Source: Shargh Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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