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Russia’s Intervention in Syria: Will it be a Game Changer?

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The recent Russian air-strikes in Syria opened a new chapter in international politics; on the one side the US is opposed to Syria`s ruler Basher Al Assad and escalating forces of ISIS and on the other side Russia has opened a new dimension in Syria which is already ravaged by civil war, through its open intervention in Syria.

A number of questions arose due to Russian action in Syria and a lot of analysis has been done in the media and strategic journals since September 2015, after Russian fighter planes began bombarding the Syrian territory. Except speculations, none of the analysts so far have been able to give any satisfactory answer to the puzzle that Russia has thrown before the world. Even leaders of the US and other countries could not draw any conclusion on Russia`s unexpected step in western Asia. Russia`s decision of bombing Syria was neither openly opposed by Obama administration nor supported.


Russian authorities have recently clearly stated that Russian action in Syria will not be limited to few attacks but may continue for 3-4 months. What does it mean? Why is Russia so eager to take part in long standing problem of Syria? What is the game behind Russia`s strategy? All these questions are unanswered. Or does Russia want to regain the position of a super power by getting involved in international affairs? 

All the issues mentioned above are interrelated somehow. One cannot forget that presidential term of Vladimir Putin will end in 2018 and before that Barack Obama will retire. Obama has now nothing to gain and nothing to lose but as far as Putin is concerned, he is being seen on crossroads to retain his powerful stature and regain Russia`s position as a superpower. 

Here it is worth to mention excerpts of statement of Vladimir Putin on situation of Syria at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, 28 September 2015-

“(…) We all know that after the end of the Cold War, a single center of domination emerged in the world. And those who found themselves at the top of that pyramid were tempted to think that if we are so strong and exceptional then we know better than anyone what to do and why at all should we reckon with the UN, which instead of automatically authorizing and legitimizing necessary decisions often creates obstacles or, in other words, “stands in the way”. (…) Russia is ready to work together with all partners on the basis of broad consensus, but we consider the attempts to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They can lead to a collapse of the entire architecture of international relations. Then, indeed, we would be left with no other rules than the rule of force.

(…) We are all different. And we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the only right one.
(…) Attempts to push for changes within other countries based on ideological preferences often led to tragic consequences and to degradation rather than progress. It seems however, that far from learning from others’ mistakes, everyone just keeps repeating them. And so the export of revolutions, this time of so-called “democratic” ones, continues. Suffice it to look at the situation in the Middle East and North Africa. (…) Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress we got violence, poverty and a social disaster. (…) It is now obvious that the power vacuum created in some countries of the Middle East and North Africa led to emergence of anarchy areas. Those immediately started to be filled with extremists and terrorists. Tens of thousands of militants are fighting under the banners of the so-called “Islamic State”. (…) And now the ranks of radicals are being joined by the members of the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition supported by the Western countries. First, they are armed and trained, and then they defect to the Islamic State.

(…) Russia has always been firm and consistent in opposing terrorism in all its forms. Today, we provide military and technical assistance both to Iraq and Syria that are fighting terrorist groups. We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its Armed Forces (…) We should finally acknowledge that no one but President Assad’s Armed Forces and Kurd militia are truly fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations in Syria. (…)”

It is clearly visible that Russia is firm on backing Syrian President Assad despite opposition of the US and on the other hand Putin also stated that he wants to fight ISIS. But situation on the ground is quite different. The US has accused that “90 per cent of the Russian air-strikes have not targeted ISIS” which means that Russia is targeting rebels of Assad`s constituency which have the U.S. sympathy.

It is also interesting to mention that it was Iran that convinced Russia to intervene in the Syrian crisis, though Iran itself became victim of Russian airstrikes as some Russian missiles dropped in Iran instead of Syria. However, an analyst of BBC stated that “Russia`s Syrian bombings gave major boost to Iran`s involvement in Syria” and “It also adds weight to Iran's position as a key power in the Middle East”. 

However, the question remains what Russia will gain from its intervention in Syria? First of all, Russian step towards Syria has made it clear that it is not possible for the U.S. to deal at all fronts undermining Russia. On the other hand, it also shows that Russia wants to be regarded same as in previous cold war era on international forums in current uni-polar world. Such a position may strengthen Vladimir Putin`s own image in Russian domestic politics.

Secondly, Russia`s ‘most expensive’ intervention in Syria may result in hitting its economy hard. Needless to say that due to Russia`s action in Syria the Ukraine crisis is almost forgotten. One must remember due to Ukraine problem, analysts had begun to make speculations of a probable third World War. Now it seems that Russia is once again in the position to break the monopoly of the U.S. hegemony in the international arena and can manipulate U.S. on different fronts. As former presidential candidate and senator John McCain pointed and lashed out at Obama on the current issue saying, “U.S. was now engaged in a proxy war with Russia in Syria, as a result of “an abdication of American leadership” Russian president Vladimir Putin was “treating the United States with disdain and contempt” over Syria, carrying out airstrikes and “inserting himself into the Middle East in a way that Russia has not been since Anwar Sadat threw them out in 1973”… Of course it is [a proxy war], and when the President says we’re not going to have that strategy, we don’t have a strategy. Excuse me? We don’t have a strategy.”

Though it is also interesting to see that the Russian military strength is less in comparison to the U.S. and also it will not be feasible for Russia to continue long in Syria. The situation somehow seems similar as U.S. was not able to intervene in Ukraine crisis. Allies of US from NATO and especially Britain`s PM David Cameron already revealed their anguish over Russian invasion in Syria and condemned Putin`s decision. But it may be also called a strategy of Obama administration to get Russia engaged in Syria to lose its military power. Russia is already distressed and embattled on domestic from due to various sanctions and slowdown of oil prices. So in such a situation it will be interesting to see how long the bear can jump and roar in the ground to play a great game?

About Author: -   He is a graduate of JNU and working with a national media house

Reference: Putin`s excerpts- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_involvement_in_the_Syrian_Civil_War
      McCain- http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/04/john-mccain-russia-us-proxy-war-syria-obama-putin

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