Russian support for the Syrian regime has not stopped since the start of the events in Syria. Russia has not stopped providing political and diplomatic support for the regime. Russia even used its vetoing power in the UN Security Council to defend the regime. It is difficult to image the regime surviving this entire period without Russian and Iranian support, and it is also difficult to imagine the opposition’s and militias’ survival without the Arab, Turkish and western support. However, Russia has been very cautious in its tone and continued its support quietly without noise or threats, and it proved its strong presence on the military and diplomatic levels.
Russia is now stepping up its measures and actions in support of the Syrian regime under the umbrella of the war on terror. By doing so, it is breathing life into the Western diplomacy which is gradually becoming aware of its failure in Syria, forcing it to start rethinking a solution that restores peace in Syria and perhaps in Iraq as well.
It seems that Russia’s calculations regarding the Syrian issue are more practical and accurate than those of the West because they are linked to, not overtaken by, the wave of hostility and hatred. Russia’s calculations were not random or impulsive, nor were they motivated by Arab whims or internal Arab hatred. They remained characterised by caution until the Russians assessed the situation to be suitable for them to take a leading position in Syria, and now they are leading matters and the Western countries are now trying to catch up with them.
There are factors that helped the Russians take the opportunity to prove their strong presence not only in the Syrian arena, but in the Arab Muslim region as a whole and in the international arena. Such factors include the following:
First is the failure of the war on terrorism. Westerners, Europeans and Americans were unable to defeat terrorism since the invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, terrorism spread across the entire world and has reproduced in a cancerous manner, making it so that no country in the world does not worry about potential terrorist acts in their territories. The obsession with terrorism haunts both the people and the governing political systems. The Western countries have reaped disturbing negative results from their war on terror and now, after all these years of chasing terrorists, they are less safe and feeling less reassured. This makes the Russian approach to terrorists stronger in terms of logic and more acceptable in the international arena.
Russia has said on more than one occasion that terrorism stems from a sense of injustice, oppression and the sense that the Western countries are taking advantage of people and countries. It suggested the establishment of equality amongst the people as the best way to reduce and eliminate terrorism.
As an alternative to the Western vision, Russia is now raising the slogan of combatting terrorism, but not by means of foreign troops, rather by strengthening local armies that fight terrorism. This is because these armies are more capable of dealing with the internal affairs than foreign armies. This means that Russia prefers to back the Syrian and Iraqi armies to beat the terrorist organisations in the two countries.
The second factor is the failure of the Western coalition in its war on Daesh. Despite the fact that this coalition, led by the US, has been launching airstrikes on Daesh for over a year, it has not achieved any tangible results. Daesh is still strong on the ground and is capable of achieving military progress from time to time in Iraq and Syria.
Many doubt how serious the US and its allies are about the war, as they may want Daesh to remain strong in order to justify future military measures, such as ground military intervention, the elimination of the political government, etc. If Russia says that it is working on combatting terrorism, then the West and their Arab and European allies have failed, and therefore they cannot confront Russia’s approach.
Thirdly, Russia is not interested in a new Cold War with the US and it is fully aware that the US is not interested in this either, especially under the current circumstances. America is suffering from major economic and financial problems and is also suffering politically and diplomatically because the international arena has somewhat narrowed.
Therefore, Russia prefers to take quiet actions, without calling attention to itself or flexing its muscles in a move unfamiliar to them in order not to provoke the Western countries. The Western countries generally are not interested in engaging in a competition or conflict with Russia in order not to sustain more losses, or at least to avoid a long list of secondary concerns that distract it from the national interests and concerns of its own people.
The fourth factor is the Europeans’ distraction with the two issues of terrorism and refugees. Europe is very busy at the moment with terrorism, which is posing an internal threat, and with the influx of refugees. The Europeans are feeling the danger of terrorism more than the Americans due to its geographical proximity to the Arab world. They are now bearing the burden of the Arab refugees who are flowing in by the tens of thousands.
The Europeans are concerned for their social fabric, which may be influenced by other cultures and infiltrators in the ranks of the refugees. Therefore, the Europeans do not have predispositions to go along with the US policies, which are sometimes aimless.
Fifthly, the Europeans and Americans have not yet formed a clear vision for Syria that can be implemented on the ground. Since the beginning, they have been hesitant in their measures to overthrow the regime and in providing military support for the armed and terrorist groups.
The West does not want Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power, but they also do not want an Islamist rule to be established in Syria. They are unable to find an alternative to the regime and the opposition, so they continue to be hesitant and unsure. On the contrary, the Russian vision is very clear and is in line with international law.
Since the beginning, the Russians stuck to the people’s right to self-determination and to choosing their leaders, and have maintained that President Bashar Al-Assad remains in power by the will of the people and that he will depart with this same will. The Russians stood in the face of those calling for the fall of the regime, as they had a strong excuse supported by international acceptance, making the Russian argument stronger than the Western countries’.
The sixth factor is Russia’s awareness that America is not interested in participating in a war in Syria. The US has failed in its wars in general. It failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, its war on terror, its airstrikes on Daesh, and the American people are not inclined to support new wars in the region, especially in light of the financial crisis that still has not gone away.
The Americans have paid the price dearly, both in the form of lives and money, in fruitless wars, and they emerged unvictorious and without achieving their announced goals. It is not easy for an American president to justify a new war in Syria to their people. The Russians are aware of this and therefore have predicted that increasing their military support for the Syrian regime will not drag the US into a confrontation in Russia, neither in Latakia nor in any other place. The Russians feel that America is, to a large extent, restrained by its repeated failures and by its people’s position, which rejects more wars.
Seventhly, the US made deals with Arab countries playing important military, security, arming and financial roles in Syria. A number of Gulf countries specifically are still contributing to the fuelling of the internal war in Syria. These same countries are defending the establishment of a democracy in Syria while they themselves lack democracy and have tribal political governments that belong in the dark ages.
America’s deals with the Arab countries have harmed the American argument in the international arena because those who defend democratic values must defend them everywhere, not in some places and not in others. This always raises the question: Does the US really want to establish a democracy or is it using democratic values to achieve personal interests, not out of interest or care for the people? As evidenced by the American policies in the Arab region, America was not too far from supporting Arab tyrannical regimes, and it had, in the past, headed to Syria to participate in the war against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. What made tyranny acceptable at that time, but unacceptable at other times; the lack of principles in establishing international relations.
The Syrian regime was unable to resolve the battle in Syria in its favour and the war is still rabidly ongoing, the price of which is being paid by the Syrians. All of the Russian and Iranian support over the past years did not enable the regime to achieve victory and Syria still suffers from continuous destruction. Since the beginning, the Russians have been talking about the importance of dialogue amongst Syrians, considering it the only way to stop the war and bloodshed. The Arabs and the West were not convinced by this argument and preferred to stick to the departure of Al-Assad as a precondition for starting dialogue. The positions are starting to change now due to the spread of terrorism and the influx of refugees, and the Western countries, along with Turkey, are reconsidering their previous positions. We are starting to hear statements different to what we had heard in the past.
It is important that the Russian policy took advantage of the developments, including the support of some Western countries for some terrorist organisations in order to force the search for a resolution for the Syrian conflict. They have justified their growing support for Al-Assad based on the policy of containing terrorism. Of course the Russians are interested in eliminating terrorism, just as the Europeans are, due to a large number of Muslims in Russia, as they may be influenced by terrorist ideology and may cause trouble for Russia.
Russia is intensifying its military efforts in Syria in order to push the European countries and their Arab supporters to encourage internal dialogue. Russia hopes that its policies in Syria will pressure the armed groups to accept dialogue with the presence of Al-Assad at the negotiations table and to cut financial and military aid to Daesh in both Syria and Iraq.
The logic of power has been historically stronger than the power of logic and it is possible for the Russian strength to change the logic of the warring parties in Syria and the foreign forces participating in the Syrian arena. If the West is not interested in a confrontation and Russia is not interested in pushing matters to the edge, then it is highly possible for the various parties to succeed in holding internal Syrian dialogue that will produce a result accepted by everyone.
Therefore, it is possible that power and strength will achieve what political and regional policies and balances were unable to achieve and may restore stability to the Arab-Syrian region. Power is sometimes necessary in order to bring wisdom to minds and to search for solutions to problems via practical means far from intolerance and the complete exclusion of others.
Translated from Al Jazeera, 29 September 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.