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Five years on: Moscow rises, US retreats and Syrians continue to suffer

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Syrian uprising. Five years ago, Syrians took to the streets to demand freedom and reforms after decades of the brutal rule of the Baath regime. None of the revolutionaries would have predicted that Syria’s experience of the Arab Spring would evolve into the horrific conflict that exists in the country today.

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With more than 300,000 recorded deaths and over 11 million people displaced as a result of the conflict, Syria is considered the world’s most dangerous country.

The Syrian people’s hope for a democratic state free of dictatorship has diminished among competing international agendas and regional ideological conquests.

Over the course of five years, the conflict has escalated and the human suffering worsened. This past year, in particular, saw critical changes in the world’s perception of the conflict and potential outcomes for a resolution.

Dominant Russia

In March 2015, the regime of Bashar Al-Assad faced key setbacks as Syrian opposition groups carried out successful offensives and expanded to different parts of the country, with opposition groups capturing the provincial capital of Idlib.

As Assad – and the Hezbollah forces supporting him – began to suffer major defeats from the rebels, Russia intervened to help the regime. Moscow’s strategic interests in Syria and the region were threatened by the advance of rebel forces.

In September 2015, Russia carried out its first airstrikes in Syria and stationed its armed forces to operate from regime-held territories, effectively aiding and propping up the regime in its war against the opposition, despite Moscow’s claim that it intended to target the terrorist group known as Daesh.

With massive airstrikes and military ground support, Assad’s forces were able to retake key areas that were under rebel control. As a result, the regime gained leverage for the Geneva negotiation process, which is now dominated by their ally, Moscow.

Moscow’s intervention has given Russia influence in international decision-making concerning Syria, forcing world powers and countries in the region to recognize its role in the conflict. Russia’s engagement in Syria has changed the war’s equation and shackled international actors.

Today, Moscow is considered a legitimate military and political actor in Syria and has the means to drive military activity according to its own interests. At the same time, Russia has positioned itself so that all negotiations or attempts for a resolution to the conflict must engage and consult Moscow.

The declining US

Uncertainty and ambiguity have characterised the constantly shifting role of the United States in Syria since the revolution erupted in 2011, with US influence declining in the past year to unprecedented levels.

The Obama administration’s misguided rationale resulted in a confined US foreign policy that has directed its efforts towards re-establishing relations with nations like Iran and Russia, while at the same time surrendering leverage on key regional conflicts.

Instead of challenging Russia and maintaining support for the national opposition, the US shifted its already shaky policy to a further precarious, yet contentious one. While President Bashar Al-Assad continued to slaughter his own people, the US allowed Russia, who has been backing the dictatorship in Damascus, to develop a standing in Syria.

As a result of US compromises, Russia was able to propose and implement a ceasefire in Syria that clearly favoured the Syrian regime. This achievement for Russia demonstrates that it has firmly established its influence over the outcome of the war and also suggests that Washington will continue to comply with Moscow’s wishes for Syria by failing the opposition, its allies.

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Furthermore, the Obama administration has been manipulative in its aid and assistance to rebel groups in Syria. In the last year, the US intensified its funding and support to Kurdish groups in Syria. The US decision to empower specific groups instead of establishing an inclusive policy promoting unity among the Syrian opposition is problematic. Further, the administration’s policy to singly address Daesh and not the root causes of the conflict will lead to additional complications, creating an environment of strained relations among Syria’s different communities. The resulting environment would provide Daesh and other terrorist organizations the opportunity to expand.

Five years after the uprising began in Syria, there is no indication that international powers will find a solution to bring an end to the war and rescue the war-torn population of Syria. The war in Syria has been managed by competing international powers. Unless those powers resolve differences in their agendas and consider the interests of a democratic Syria, it is likely that the war in Syria will worsen.

Abdulrahman al-Masri is an independent journalist based in Canada. Follow him on Twitter @AbdulrhmanMasri.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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