Russia’s intervention in Syria: Protracting an already endless conflict

Charles Lister writes: While the adversity and civilian casualties from the first two weeks of Russia’s intervention may have emboldened a Syrian revolutionary spirit, the medium-to-long term outlook is concerning for four principal reasons.

– Firstly, the fact that moderate FSA factions have been hit so hard in Russian strikes — and that these same groups have been so effective in using their TOW missiles — has closed the gap between them and some of the most conservative Syrian Islamists. While they were somewhat distrustful of each other earlier this year, they have been celebrating each other’s battlefield successes since Russia started its strikes.

– Secondly, some diplomatic statements notwithstanding, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and other Gulf states are furious at Russia’s actions. They have and will continue to encourage closer military coordination between the FSA and Syrian Islamists, which provides transnationally-minded groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and other al-Qaida-linked factions with space to further integrate into broader opposition dynamics. Already, a number of multi-group operations rooms have been established in areas targeted by Russian strikes in which ‘vetted’ FSA groups, Syrian Islamists and sometimes Jabhat al-Nusra have openly flaunted their cooperation. This was a rare occurrence even one month ago.

– Thirdly — after nearly two years of serious internal and external engagement with the subject of a ‘political solution — Syria’s armed opposition now sees itself in an existential battle which can have no outcome other than the total defeat of Assad, Iran, and Russia. “There is little time for politics right now,” said one mainstream Islamist. The same fighters used to see Russia as a potential party at the negotiating table. “Russia is a major power with a UN veto and before its aggression, it could have helped sponsor an acceptable political solution,” said 101st Division leader Captain Hassan al-Hamadeh, a former regime MiG-21 jet pilot who famously defected with his jet to Jordan in June 2012. “But after Russia’s aggression, Putin has become a clear partner of Assad in shedding Syrian blood, which hinders any hope of a political solution,” he insisted.

– Lastly, Russia’s military intervention will undoubtedly further consolidate jihadist militancy in Syria. Al-Qaida will likely benefit directly from this, by presenting itself as fighting a second “jihad” against Russia. “The most important consequence is the psychological situation now hitting the Syrian people,” Hassan Haj Ali, the leader of the CIA-backed Tajamu Suqor al-Ghab told me. “As far as many people see it, the only friends left of the Syrian people are the car bomb and the gun and those who say there is no solution but to die in battle,” he exclaimed. [Continue reading…]

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