The former Russian ambassador to Syria has issued sharp criticism of Syrian regime President Bashar Al-Assad, questioning his ability to reform and rebuild the country while exposing Russia's increasing irritation with its ally that it has supported for the past decade.
In an article published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), former Ambassador Aleksandr Aksenenok stated: "Damascus is not particularly interested in displaying a far-sighted and flexible approach continuing to look to a military solution with the support of its allies and unconditional financial and economic aid like during the old days of the Soviet-US confrontation in the Middle East."
He claimed that "it is often difficult to differentiate between the anti-terrorist struggle and violence on the part of the government toward its opponents in that country," referring to the ongoing nine-year civil war between the regime and the Syrian opposition forces which both Al-Assad and Russia label terrorists.
As a result of this confusion, "tensions have again escalated in the southwestern regions of Syria (the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra), which have been freed under the agreements with a part of the armed opposition on actually the semi-autonomous local power sharing." He acknowledged that in the territories recaptured by the regime, the "outrages by Syrian secret services" had resulted in the fact that "'Mysterious' murders, threats and abductions have become more frequent."
Aksenenok asserted that the regime made the mistake of boasting of "victory" following its recapture of much of the country's territory throughout the past few years, and that the regime forces are incapable of being as powerful as they were prior to the war which has impeded its efficiency in capturing the last opposition-held stronghold of Idlib province.
"Despite the tactical successes, achieved mostly with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the military campaign in Idlib has illustrated the limits of what's possible. During the war years, the Syrian army sustained big losses in troops and equipment. The strength of the combat capable elite troops, being restored with Russia's assistance, has also declined."
This, he wrote, makes the regime's rhetoric of fully regaining its territory more of an illusion as "High level statements on the use of force if Turkish and US troops do not leave Syria appear divorced from reality."
The former ambassador then went on outline the extent to which the Syrian regime has been unable to manage its economy and the huge impacts that the war has had on the country's civilian population and infrastructure. "Syria has sustained the biggest losses of all the conflicts in the Middle East. From 2011 through 2018, GDP fell by almost two thirds from $55 billion to $22 billion a year. This means that recovery costs (that amount to at least $250 billion) are equal to 12 times the current GDP. According to the World Bank, about 45 percent of housing has been destroyed, including a quarter of it that was razed to the ground. Over half of health facilities and about 40 percent of schools and universities are out of operation," he said.
With such an impact and large-scale destruction brought about by the war and the regime's misrule, Aksenenok predicted that in the future – should Al-Assad continue to rule – the regime would be incapable of reforming the country and making it functional. "In the course of military de-escalation it is becoming increasingly obvious that the regime is reluctant or unable to develop a system of government that can mitigate corruption and crime and go from a military economy to normal trade and economic relations," he stated.
According to prominent Syrian economists, the central government in Damascus is failing to restore control over economic life in the more remote provinces.
Despite Russia's military assistance to the Assad regime throughout the civil war, it has increasingly come to see the regime as a burden due to its constant violation of ceasefires and undermining of peace agreements made between Russia and other states.
Most recently, for example, Russia sent its Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Damascus last month in order to sternly warn Al-Assad not to break the recent Idlib ceasefire deal struck between Turkey and Russia. It was revealed shortly afterwards that it was in response to the fact that Al-Assad was on the verge of violating it at the behest of the United Arab Emirates.