September last year, Vladimir Putin surprised the world with his decision to intervene in the protracted civil war of Syria. In the same manner, Putin in March this year announced the withdrawal of his boys from Syria, bringing about much scepticism, and indeed, criticism of his yet another sudden decision. The war in Syria has become a serious threat to the existence of Syria and a huge burden to Bashar al-Assad, which informed his unexpected rush for succour in the hand of Putin.
Geared by his military venture in Ukraine, which resulted in the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, this time around, Putin was on a mission to restore order and bring some sanity to the convoluted war in Syria. However, it was the personal persuasion of al-Assad during one of his visits to Moscow for Putin to accede to his request. On a balanced scale, Russia’s mission in Syria could not have been out of place after all. It brought significant change to the dimension of the war, which had become gloomy for the embattled central government in Damascus. Al-Assad became jittery by the continued domination of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), combined with the constant attack by rebel groups against his government. The sudden venture of Putin in Syria was indeed a helping hand to reinvigorate the drowning government of al-Assad, giving him some foothold.
Notwithstanding, al-Assad is not very keen on resolving this war in earnest. This is evident in his use of force and unconventional use of chemical weapon (Sarin—a lethal chemical gas) to exterminate every opposition to his rule. This is one of the main reasons that led to the United States flaring up and their follow-up backing of the revolutionary groups in Syria, after seeing such a deadly attack by al-Assad on his own people.
Of course, no amount of support from the US for the rebels can upturn the stage on al-Assad overnight. Al-Assad is also privileged to some supporting countries, namely Russia, Iran, etc. But, Russia’s involvement in Syria is to first, improve their not so good military record of foreign intervention. It was the right time for Putin to show the military prowess of Russia after suffering a series of intimidation and domination from their US counterpart, in peacekeeping missions, military occupation, or military intervention needing a significant response or the use of heavy military apparatuses.
So, Mr. Putin jumped at the request, having seen the unwillingness and bias of the United States to intervene, and the over-dragging processes of the United Nations General Assembly to bring an amicable solution to the war, due to disagreements between countries like China, US, UK, and of course, Russia. This unnecessary disagreement between the West and the East bloc of the UN could have prevented Russia’s intervention, but for al-Assad’s ‘Save Our Soul’ visit to Moscow.
Iran on the other is simply fulfilling all forms of friendliness in which both states have enjoyed for a very long time. To achieve this, military arsenal and financial aid was made available to the crumbling government of al-Assad to challenge the rebel’s ‘temporary’ upper hand, courtesy of the United States. However, these two opposing parties (al-Assad government backed by Iran and Russia and the rebels backed by the US) did not see any possibility of a third-party like the ISIS taking over the offensive from the rebels that initially started the war. The United States were dumbfounded by the sophistication of ISIS, that a top US security personnel had to say, they have not seen anything like this before. You should also expect that the government of al-Assad will not be spared from ISIS’ heavy attack, hence, the call for help by al-Assad, for Russia’s intervention in order to save his divided country.
ISIS’ emergence is still a mystery to the whole world. The dangerous thing about this group is their ideology and extreme religious beliefs outside the norms of a normal, sane society. They are fighting for the enforcement of their religious beliefs which is different from what is normal. Unfortunately, al-Assad is a rigid, authoritarian president, who allowed the opposition’s demand to snowball to a full blown war. Initially, the rebels were protesting and demonstrating against the ill-treatment meted out to them by al-Assad—Al-Assad indiscriminately hunted down voices in contrast to his government. He ordered his people to be killed and dehumanized without showing remorse. His indifference led to the escalation of the uprising. In response, the rebels who were once civil protesters and having no option of reprieve under the al-Assad government, formed militia groups to challenge his unrestrained behaviour.
Poised by the spring of protests going on at that time in Tunisia and Egypt, the crisis in Syria soon became a full blown war that went out of control. The United States even with their great influence became so overburdened and they decided to limit their participation. Sadly, their passiveness and lack of joint military coordination with other stakeholders (Russia and China inclusive) ensured more devastation in Syria. ISIS’ constant terror became a worldwide phenomenon as the group became a serious menace to Syrians and even the neighbouring Iraq, thereby, plunging Syria into total ruins and serious disarray.
In addition, the stubbornness of al-Assad not to relinquish power for peace to reign, and of course, aiding of violence by Iran in their support of al-Assad government is another big factor sabotaging having a truce in this war. Turkey is also very much complicit in escalating the war in Syria. Turkey has financially aided some rebels, at the same time preventing external intervention both within and outside its border. For instance, in November 2015, a Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkey for violation of its airspace. The nonchalant attitude of Recep Erdogan to the war in Syria is obviously manifested in their sheer suffering of terrorism and the over-stretch of Turkey’s social resources due to the number of refugees now residing in Turkey as a result of the war.
On a broader perspective, the intervention of Russia was quite timely, yet, laced with ulterior motives and one could say it was a false-positive intervention. But the possibility of having ISIS to further their extreme mission in Syria is unimaginable. Russia claimed to have targeted ISIS dominated areas, but the record shows that innocent citizens were also victims of their missile attacks, coupled with the allegation of the US that they were not targeting ISIS but the more vulnerable rebel groups, leading to the death of thousands of them. Again, Russia’s involvement in Syria had some ulterior motives: crave for foreign prominence in reconciliation talks and military mediation (checkmating the overbearing status of the US in foreign policy), and to re-position the beleaguered government of al-Assad. But the withdrawal of Russia from Syria was too sudden; the world expected a sustained military effort to at least bring relief to the war-torn Syria. In contrast, Putin was done with his mission and the impression he tried to create was substantially achieved. Thus, why the waste of time and resources fighting a war outside his core positions, minding the dwindling state of Russia’s economy after the many sanctions against them by the European Union.
Nevertheless, the withdrawal and re-entry of Russia to the war in Syria may further escalate the already escalated war, where, there are different rebel groups fighting for supremacy, and not forgetting the tendency for disloyalty in the Syrian army, and the constant threat by the big and strong ISIS, who are currently in control of half of Syria map. Vladimir Putin should have done a better job than what he did if he truly wanted to restore sanity in Syria. For this reason, Russia’s participation in Syria seems like a show-off, to emphasize the military prowess of Russia after a series of setback and loggerheads with the West on foreign policy and the proliferation of nuclear warheads.
As long as al-Assad is not ready to initiate a conclusive ceasefire between him and the rebels to end the Syria hostility (with the exception of ISIS who will never be part of such agreement to ceasefire), Syria will continue to burn; casualties are definitely expected on both sides. Before the intervention of Russia, the rebels did gain a lot of ground, the tide of victory reversed against them owing to the heavy firepower of Russian military forces. And even with the support of Russia and the possibility of having a sustained attack on the rebels, a total victory can never be guaranteed because the rebels are not ready to give up their mission. The recent peace deal brokered by Russia and the US should accommodate the interests of both parties. A deviation from this standpoint will make the Geneva peace deal futile.
The war in Syria is one of the most complicated war in history, in which even if the US step up their military campaign against ISIS (which would take a very long time), what about the government of al-Assad in Damascus? What about the disgruntled rebels, who have different affiliation and mission? So the best peace deal in this war is for al-Assad to resign or constitute a transitional government that would start a new government in Syria in order to accommodate the interest of all the rebel groups. Subsequent plan for resolving the crisis can now focus on defeating ISIS and how to completely eliminate the stubborn group.
Note: As at the time of writing this post, the ceasefire that was initiated by the US and Russia in March, between Bashar al-Assad and the rebels is now in deadlock. Hostilities have erupted again in Syria.
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Mr_Odunayo Bankole is a multimedia professional. His brand of journalism is both liberal and conservative. A broadcast major, he is very passionate about online journalism and digital media. Feedback—firstname.lastname@example.org