Why is Russia in Syria? Part 4 Russia’s Motivation for Intervention
Read Part 3 Here.
Russia’s Motivation for a Syrian Intervention
Having given an overview of what Russia and the Coalition of the Righteous have been up to in Syria and Iraq, it is now time to go into the possible motivations that Russia has for involving itself in the Syrian Civil War. The reason for Russia’s intervention in Syria is simple, they are attempting to prop up their ally Bashar al-Assad.
It was obvious that Assad’s fortunes were waning. The majority of Syria is in the hands of rebels forces or is contested, with only the coastal region and a few other interior pockets being firmly under the regime’s control. Major cities such as Aleppo and Damascus are battlegrounds, with the former half under rebel control and the latter recently seeing incursions by ISIL into its suburbs. Illustrative of the decline of the regime’s fortunes was ISIL’s destruction of the Syrian army’s main arsenal at Al Safira. In July Assad gave a speech in which he admitted to his military struggles. He said his army could only focus on defending critical areas and that militarily, “there is a lack of human resources … there is a shortfall in human capacity.”
With the deteriorating situation in Syria, the Russian’s realized quick action was needed. We have already mentioned how Qassem Soleimani when meeting with Russian officials in Moscow “felt matters [in Syria] were in steep decline and that there were real dangers to the regime.” When Putin was interviewed on 60 Minutes Charlie Rose basically asked him whether he was rescuing Assad, to which Putin responded “That’s right, that’s how it is.” Undoubtedly all of Russia’s interventions in Syria are intended, as much as possible, to maintain the Assad regime.
The question that arises is why is it so important for Russia to prop up Assad’s regime? There are many possible reasons, but we shall focus on seven which seem reasonable and plausible (which are not presented in order of importance):
- Stabilization of the region.
- Protecting Christian minorities.
- Opposing the West and preventing the rise of a regime friendly to the West.
- Fighting terrorism (i.e. degrading ISIL and other Sunni Islamist groups).
- The Russian port at Tarsus.
- Weapon sales to Syria.
- Future gas/oil pipe that may traverse Syria.
Now we shall further explore these seven reasons for Russian intervention so as to have a better understanding of the situation in Syria.
Stabilization of Syria and the Middle East
One reason that Russia is intervening in Syria is to stabilize the Middle Eastern region. When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia and then spread into other Arabic countries, it was hoped and professed that dictatorial regimes would be replaced with democratic and freedom respecting ones. Sadly this did not happen. The hope and verdancy of spring quickly faded into the cold and dead of winter. Instead of democracy, Islamists rose to power. Instead of freedom, chaos and violence were unleashed.
In Libya Muammer Gaddafi was killed and replaced by warring tribal and Islamist groups. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak was ousted and caged. As a replacement the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its leader Muhammad Morsi were elected, but soon their dictatorial and Islamist ways became overt and in the resulting populous clamor the General Abdel Fatteh al-Sisi staged a successful coup. In Syria Bashar al-Assad was too strong and tenacious, he could not be ousted through peaceful protest and as a result armed conflict erupted and the result was the Syrian Civil War.
It is clear that the revolutions that have occurred in the Arab world have led to chaos. Libya is now more like a lawless desert tract populated by warring groups, than a unified nation. Egypt was saved from a similar chaotic fate by the strongman al-Sisi, but it is still experiencing an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula. In Syria the situation differs from the other two cases. There, neither Assad nor the rebels have been strong enough to vanquish the other. Instead they are locked in a bloody and destructive struggle that has killed over 240,000 people and displaced millions.
In the opinion of the Russians, and many others, the situation in Syria can get much worse. As Putin said in his interview with Charlie Rose that the fall of Syria “would create a situation that we are witnessing today in other countries of the region or in other regions of the world, for instance, in Libya, where all state institutions have completely disintegrated.” The day after this interview was broadcasted Putin gave his speech at the 70th UN General Assembly in New York City. There he continued his theme by saying:
“Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress we got violence, poverty and a social disaster. And nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life. I cannot help asking those who have caused this situation: do you realize now what you have done? But I am afraid no one is going to answer that. Indeed, policies based on self-conceit, and belief in one’s exceptionality and impunity have never been abandoned.”
Putin was obviously referring to the Western nations who were involved in the Arab Spring, those that bombed Gaddafi ensuring his death and the disintegration of his country, those who unsuccessfully supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and those who supported, and are still supporting, the ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria, most of which are in fact ‘extremist’ Islamists. In the eyes of Putin the West has been sowing chaos throughout the Middle East, as well as in the Ukraine, and if he does not intervene in Syria then the most likely outcome will be even more chaos, a chaos that will quickly spread to other states. As Putin has said, “Having established a foothold in Syria and other Middle East countries, the terrorists have been building plans to increase expansion and destabilise entire regions.”
The most likely outcome of Assad’s fall is the rise of Sunni Islamists such as ISIL or Jabat al-Nusra, or some coalition of Islamist groups. Once these Islamists assume power, regardless of their name, they will begin butchering minorities like the Alawites and the Christians, and anyone who does not comply with their version of Islam, including other Sunni Muslims.
The replacement of their ally Assad with Islamist induced chaos will not be to the advantage of Russia. If Syria becomes a lawless Islamist zone or a province of the Caliphate, then it will serve as a base of operations for Sunni extremists, many of whom are Chechens who could very well threaten Russia itself. An Islamist Syria will act as a staging point for attacks on other countries, thereby further spreading chaos throughout the Middle East region. Furthermore with Assad gone, Russia’s other ally Iran and the Iranian proxy Hezbollah, will both be a in precarious situation, with Iran possibly being open to attack by America or Israel. Thus it was in the national interest of Russia to intervene in Syria and attempt to stabilize the situation.
Read Part 5 Here.