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Coalition of the East

Oct, 2015

After weeks of speculations, Russians eventually stepped in the Syrian conflicts, striking the positions of opposition groups in the Arab country. Not surprisingly, severe Russian attacks inside the Syrian territories have stimulated regional and global reactions.

The United States and its allies expressed their doubt about Moscow’s sincere will, while Russia insisted it sought to hit ISIS or Islamic State positions. The Russian government has not concealed that they consider every group fighting against Bashar al Assad’s government as a terrorist. Immediately after first series of Russian attacks, it was found that Americans’ concerns were right since Russian jets mainly targeted opposition groups supported by the US and Turkey rather than ISIS terrorists. Moscow, in practice, was targeting the supporter of the opposition groups as well. Russian jets violated Turkey’s airspace several times. Though the Russians blame bad weather for the violations of airspace, everybody knows that it was an attempt to upset Mr. Erdogan.

Reports suggest that Russia is preparing to send troops into Syria to fight against rebels and terrorists. Some reports even say that a group of commanders from the Russian Army’s Special Forces already began cooperating with Iran’s Qods forces to identify and capture ISIS and other opposition groups’ commanders.

In the next phase, the Iraqi government will join this coalition. Baghdad has sent a delegation to Moscow to officially announce its agreement with Russia’s attacks against ISIS positions inside of the Iraqi territory.

It is true that the Russian president is a professional gambler. He proved during conflicts in Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea that he can take big risks getting directly involved in regional conflicts, though he assesses his competitors for quite a long time before taking any action against them. Russia’s intervention in the Syrian crisis is for certain in line with the same personality of Mr. Putin. But what objectives Russia is seeking in Russia? Answer to this question will probably help us in predicting next moves by major players involved in the Syrian conflict.

Keeping Syria

For Moscow Syria is not only an ally but it’s the last stronghold the former Soviet Union has in the Middle East, as Syria hosts a Russian strategic naval base in the Mediterranean Sea. But they key point here is that Moscow is not seeking to keep Assad but it’s struggling to keep Syria. In other words, Russians are ready to give up Assad if they are provided guarantees that their interests, including the naval base, in Syria would be protected.

What is Russia looking for in Syria?

The question raised in the media these days is what objectives Russia may have by attacking opposition groups in Syria and what repercussions the attacks may have?

Given the Putin administration’s behavior, the attacks was predictable although they obviously happened suddenly. The attacks are considered as the first military intervention into a foreign country after the cold war ended. This could be a sign that Russia’s foreign policy’s doctrine is turning from a defensive one to an aggressive one and the country’s diplomacy is to be replaced by militarism, a method used by the former Soviet Union.

This is not good news for either the West or Russia’s neighboring countries. If the Russian sleeping giant wakes up after 20 years it will make conflicts happen between countries, costing the international community so much, just like what happened when Russia launch attacks against Ukraine over a political dispute.

On the other hand, Russia’s intervention has other objectives in the region. Bashar Assad’s share from the Syrian territory decreased last month from 40 percent to 25 percent as the army was frustrated, Hezbollah was weakened, and other realities on the ground. Undoubtedly, if the conflict continued with the same pace, nothing could be left under Assad’s control but Damascus and some Shiite towns, then Russia and Iran – two major allies of Syria had bet on a dead horse in the negotiation process with the West on Syria. 

The first and the most important reason behind Russian attacks is an attempt to change the political equation in favor of Assad and the forces loyal to him so that the Syria case would be changed to a negotiable issue.

In fact, Russian authorities know that their attacks on opposition groups’ positions in Syria will not restore Assad’s government but Moscow is just trying to send a message to Western states that if they want an end to the Syrian crisis and reach a real deal they have to negotiate with Russia and Iran, who seek their share from the Syrian cake in the future.

The objectives of Russia are clear but the question is whether Syria is a good scene for a coalition of three – Russia, Syria, Iran – to maneuver or the recent assaults will only lead to another unpredictable war in the region getting several countries involved.


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