Joyce Karam writes: In September of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to warn the United States that a potential strike against Syria “will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.” Two years later, Moscow starts out its own bombing campaign in Syria, targeting so far moderate rebels in an attempt to save the Assad regime and improve its geopolitical stature.
Russia’s political posturing aside, Syria today is no place to achieve grandiosity, or claim victories in the Middle East. It is a humanitarian disaster unseen in recent Arab history, a magnet for mercenaries from Afghanistan to Nigeria, and a breeding ground for extremism. If anything, Russia’s intervention on behalf of the Assad regime and aided by Hezbollah and IRGC, will only prolong the conflict, prompt further escalation while derailing the path to a political settlement.
The first day of Russian air strikes targeting anti-Assad moderate rebels, leaves no doubt that Putin’s entry into the Syrian war is primarily about saving Assad and not fighting ISIS. Putin is not even shy about it, telling Charlie Rose last Sunday when asked if the goal is to save Assad, “That’s right, that’s how it is…we provide assistance to legitimate Syrian authorities.” Problem is these authorities have lost all their legitimacy, and Syria can’t be saved absent of a major political compromise that neither Assad nor Russia have been willing to make.
For Russia, compromising on Assad is a sign of weakness and a redline in its negotiations with the West. Throughout the conflict and while Putin would make public statements that “we are not that preoccupied with the fate of Assad’s regime”, it is the exactly fate of Assad regime that halted the progress. Russia has rejected a timetable for Assad to leave power, and is against an overhaul of the Syrian security apparatus that it has invested in since the 1970s. [Continue reading…]