As if the Syrian skies were not crowded enough, an assertive Russia joined the fray in its first combat mission in the Middle East since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The bold move by Russia, which is designed to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, caught many in the west by surprise but Russia has shown that it will not hesitate to match words with firm actions and the large array of aircraft and military hardware it was busy assembling in recent weeks in Latakia was hardly for mere show.
Since the start of the Syrian war, Russia has not hidden its relentless support for the Assad regime and along with Iran has been Damascus’s chief backer.
Islamic State (IS) has been around for a number of years so if the Russian actions are solely aimed at eradicating IS, why join the fight now?
The bottom line is that unlike the persistent dithering and indecisiveness of the US over the past few years, Russia has shown little reluctance in its support for Assad.
The trigger for Russia’s swift entry into the crowed Syrian battle scene was the increasing pressure on the Syrian regime from rapid rebel advances that had taken them to the door steps of Latakia.
Russia still maintains the only solution to the conflict is a political one but its military drive in Syria will serve to strengthen Assad’s hand.
The US led coalition has spent years trying to level the playing field to force through a negotiated settlement with its support of moderate forces that has been ultimately too slow and bogged down with the sheer difficult of vetting the moderates from the extremists.
If Russia continues to focus largely on the rebels that it labels as terrorists in the same manner as Damascus, then Assad is afforded much needed breathing space at a crucial juncture much like the Hezbollah\Iranian intervention a few years ago that saved the regime from the brink.
US President Barack Obama labelled the Russian view that all those forces opposing Assad are terrorists as a “recipe for disaster”.
Russia has already tried to sway large segments of the Syrian opposition over the past year or so as it hosted peace talks and a continued perception that the Russia action in Syria is solely on the side of Assad will backfire.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated the Russian approach is “doomed to fail” as a political settlement needed at least some of the opposition onboard.
The boldness of the Russia actions in Syria transforms the negotiation landscape. Russia has insisted it is not wed to Assad personally but for any settlement to be viable Russia will ensure that its strategic presence in Syria is maintained with its naval base in Tartous and new bases in Latakia and that apart from Assad, the power apparatus and institutions remain largely the same.
As the war rages on, the West will have little choice but to compromise on the position of Assad and there are already numerous signs that Western powers see their “Assad must go first” mentality to any political transition as unrealistic.
If Russia continues to prop up Assad with such increased fervor, then even the Syrian rebels may see the dead ends especially if US support on the ground continues to lack the same urgency as that of Russia.
Russia has also targeted IS but could easily increase the ferocity of its campaign against IS if the West and Assad’s regional foes start to make concessions on the fate of Assad.
Russia would not want to exert all its energy eradicating IS whilst anti-Assad forces creep closer to Latakia and the gates of Damascus.
In the short-term, Russian intervention is yet another party dropping bombs on Syria and suffering of millions only intensifies under a crowded battle field with so many warring sides and now ever crowding Syrian skies.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc