The war in Syria remains ongoing after twelve years, a consequence of the Arab Spring and the subsequent rise of anti-government, pro-democracy protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Since 2011, the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad has crossed swords with several opposition groups. The conflict has resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people; foreign powers felt compelled to step in. The Syrian situation is still one of the world's most lethal and complex humanitarian crises.
The Arab Spring in Syria started as peaceful demonstrations calling for political reform but quickly escalated into a war due to the brutal response of the Assad regime. The conflict has since escalated into a multi-sided war, with various opposition groups, government forces and international powers involved.
Many argue that Russia's role in Syria is dangerous and futile, especially regarding the Syrian political track, because Moscow insists on offering military support to the regime. The Russian intervention has been condemned for causing civilian deaths and targeting mainly moderate opposition groups. Its involvement has aggravated the violence and led to increased tension with other countries, particularly the US and its allies, who have supported groups fighting the Syrian regime.
Another dangerous factor is that Russia's interference has prolonged the conflict and the humanitarian catastrophe. With millions of Syrians displaced or killed, and cities and towns destroyed, the situation in Syria continues to be dire.
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Furthermore, analysts describe Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict as an effort to increase its influence in the Middle East, which is a potential threat to regional stability. There are Russian fingerprints on several war crimes and human rights violations in Syria, including the targeting of civilian areas with air strikes and using banned weapons such as cluster bombs. The Syrian regime is alleged to have used chemical weapons against civilians with Moscow's clearance and support, while Russian companies are reported to have been involved in illegal oil and mineral exploitation in Syria during the war.
Politically, Russia's diplomatic efforts focus primarily on preserving the power of the Syrian regime with little regard for the protection of civilians or a political solution addressing the underlying causes of the conflict. Moscow has used its veto in the UN Security Council to block many resolutions critical of the regime.
While Russia's involvement in the Syrian war may have prevented the collapse of the Assad regime, it has also been a factor in escalating the violence and suffering in the country.
Iran has been involved in the Syrian War since its outbreak in 2011, providing military and financial support to the Assad regime. Tehran's involvement has been a source of controversy and criticism; Iran is accused of contributing to human rights abuses and the escalation of violence in Syria.
Apart from providing the Syrian regime with weapons, equipment and military advisors, Tehran has also sent troops and proxy militias to fight on Assad's side. These militias, such as Hezbollah from Lebanon, have been accused of committing human rights abuses, including war crimes and involvement in the displacement of civilians. The proxies have reportedly committed sectarian crimes against the Sunni population, contributing to the radicalisation of some opposition groups.
Iran's involvement in Syrian is also a tactic to expand its influence in the Middle East, which is said to be yet another potential threat to regional stability. Some countries, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, have criticised Iran's role in the Syrian war and acted to counter it.
Furthermore, Iran's role in Syria has propped up Bashar Al-Assad over the years. The regime, however, has lost legitimacy in the eyes of many Syrians due to its brutal crackdown on opposition groups and persistent human rights abuses.
So, is there a solution for Syria, given so much international involvement? Although as yet unknown, a solution is bound to be complex and multifaceted. Achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace in Syria may require a combination of diplomacy, political negotiations and a commitment to addressing the underlying causes of the conflict.
A crucial diplomatic effort to end the Syrian war has been the UN-mediated peace talks which started in 2016, but have failed to bring peace. Another initiative has been the Astana process, a peace forum established by Russia, Turkey and Iran; Turkey also has troops on the ground, in northern Syria. These efforts have had some success in reducing the violence in certain parts of Syria but haven't been able to achieve a comprehensive peace deal. Allegedly, Astana's failure is due to its disregard for UN Resolution 2254, as Russia, Turkey and Iran remain focused on their particular interests with no satisfactory solutions for the Syrian people.
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A political solution to the conflict would involve negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition groups to reach a power-sharing agreement, bring about a transitional government and, eventually, hold democratic elections. The political negotiations should also address the key issues that have fuelled the conflict, such as political representation, human rights and economic development.
Another important step towards a lasting peace would be addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, providing aid and support to those affected by the conflict, and addressing the issue of the displaced persons within and beyond Syria.
Political and diplomatic efforts may include an inclusive and comprehensive reconciliation process in which all the Syrian parties and communities have a voice. The process should address the issue of transitional justice and reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country.
Is this possible? It can be, but it needs serious commitment from all sides, with the interests of the Syrian people uppermost.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.