The Russians finished securing Damascus against any threat after the Assad regime removed the last armed faction from Ghouta on 13 April. However, Moscow still wanted to send a message to the US saying that the chemical weapons agreement signed in 2013 is no longer valid, and allowed the regime to use chemical weapons in Duma a few days earlier.
This message also means that Russia is in control of Syria’s fate and that the US must leave Syria for good. Of course, this would not have been ignored, as it would be considered a declaration of Russia’s victory in Syria and perhaps a Russian response to all of the American and Western policies regarding the intensification of sanctions on Russia and the recent expulsion of diplomats. As such, the West must take a direct position on it, as all of its discussions in the UN Security Council have not deterred Russia. Moscow has lied repeatedly in denying the chemical attack in Duma, and even went as far as accusing Britain of fabricating it. Russia, therefore, left the US and Britain no other choice but to bomb Syria.
The air strikes launched on 14 April were targeted specifically at facilities and bases related to chemical weapons. At the same time, America sent a clear message that Russia does not have the right to control Syria’s fate and that the goal of these strikes is to end this monopoly. Washington also sent a message that resolving conflicts between the countries involved in the Syrian war should not take place in Astana or Sochi, but in Geneva.
US President Donald Trump’s speech announcing the attack told Russia and Iran that the strikes will not be directed at their bases in Syria and so there were things that they needed to do in order to protect their interests in the country. This indicated the need for Iran to scale back its presence in Syria and the need for Russia to refrain from imagining itself controlling Syria alone. What I said is linked to US strategy against Iran, which it is dwarfing all across the region, not only in Syria, but also in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. The air strikes are basically a clear political declaration to the West that the significant decline in opposition forces and the security of the capital will not be the first step to America’s withdrawal from Al-Raqqah, nor from the northern and eastern parts of Syria and Idib, as has been claimed repeatedly by the Iranians. Turkey’s support for the strikes helps to reinstate politics rather than displacing the people of Ghouta and turning their backs on the rights of the Syrians.
Neither Russia nor Iran addressed the strikes, which did not increase US, British or French influence on the ground. The areas that had been determined as strongholds remained the same. The air strikes were based on military goals to eliminate chemical weapons and prevent their use in the future, as an international issue related to world peace. All three countries have confirmed that they will repeat the strikes if the Syrian regime uses such weapons again. As I said before, the political goal of this is to resume the Geneva path to peace and resolve the crisis.
The Russians and the Iranians have supported the Assad regime for many years and stopped the Geneva path in favour of talks in Astana and Sochi. However, there is now an opportunity to return to Geneva. The political solution does not necessarily have to be in accordance with Geneva 1, but it is a path that will eliminate all delusions of a Russian, Iranian and Assad victory. Moreover, given their destruction of Aleppo, Ghouta and many other areas, Russia and its allies will not be allowed complete and sole control.
The US and its allies are no longer content with fighting Daesh militants. Furthermore, the regime will not be eliminated militarily, as proven by the results of the limited strikes on this occasion. This has been clear since 2011, but the words uttered by US Defence Secretary James Mattis, and various other statements regarding the return to Geneva, include a warning to Russia implying that it would no longer be allowed to manipulate Syrian and world affairs. The weak Russian statements that US missiles will not pass over Khmeimim Air Base were ironic; thus, the strikes were directed at Russian President Vladimir Putin and all his visions of reviving Russia as a Soviet Union MkII, as well as his disregard for the US and the international system. Through these strikes, Putin will redefine himself as the leader of a marginal state in the world system, like Italy for example, as his imperialism is not authentic and the most important factor of this is its military strength. Even this, though, is limited in its influence on the re-shaping of the world in the event that the US and international community want to wage wars and bring about political change to show that they are actually in control of the world, even in the vicinity of Russia itself.
I believe that the chemical weapons have been completely destroyed, but a return to Geneva may not happen if Russia does not agree to deals discussed when Trump posted his tweets that he would strike anything related to chemical weapons in Syria. However, Russia and its allies’ talk of regaining Al-Raqqah is definitely over, just as Trump’s statements were a means to blackmail Saudi Arabia. Hence, Russia and the US will remain in Syria; the realistic thing to do now is to draw the lines of influence definitively and the air strikes reinforce this.
Is it enough, though, for the Western states to draw such lines of influence or must they move to looting and forming a political system that serves their interests? This matter is currently being discussed by Russia, the US and the countries mediating between them; they are looking for a system that serves their contrasting interests in order to loot Syria’s resources, and the so-called reconstruction of beneficial areas to help with this looting.
The consecutive statements regarding the resumption of negotiations do not suit the Astana or the Sochi paths, and are only suitable for Geneva or a new route that takes into consideration the results of the most recent strikes. The US will no longer leave Syria to Russia and so they must reach an agreement to end the crises there and in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
If all the analysis regarding the re-emergence of international imperialism in the region is true, then this does not mean that there won’t be new maps for this and that an agreement will be reached with Russia in this regard. Moreover, this requires neutralising Israel within its borders, on one hand, and strengthening it on the other. It also requires scaling back Iran and Turkey within their borders in order for them to return to being local states and maintaining their internal borders only. Iran, in particular, is interested in ending all of its “endeavours” in Arab countries and control of four Arab capitals.
The US, French, and British air strikes are a new start for cooperation with Russia, as well as scaling back its influence and involvement in one go. It will also allow for drafting policies for the regional countries and perhaps even a return to the Geneva path, in a manner that will produce a new Syrian system that is completely subject to Russian and US interests in particular.
This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21 on 15 April 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.