Russian Policy in Syria: Possibilities and Future Possibilities

Russian Policy in Syria: Possibilities and Future Possibilities
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Published on Tuesday, 06 April 2021


In early 2017, Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, stated that Damascus was on the verge of falling, when Russia began its military operation in Syria to save the Syrian regime in September 2015. 


Lavrov said this on January 17, 2017, at his annual press conference devoted to talking about the results of the work of Russian diplomacy in 2016, declaring: (We are confident that our decision was correct, when we responded to the request of the legitimate government of Syria, knowing that the capital of this United Nations member state was at that time two or three weeks away from falling into the hands of the terrorists). [1]


This was supported by Qadri Jamil, who holds the position of President of the Moscow Platform for the Syrian Opposition, and Secretary of the Popular Will Party, which considers himself and his party from the “internal opposition.” Qadri Jamil claimed in a television interview with the Kurdish “Rudaw” network that had it not been for Russia’s intervention, Damascus would have fallen into the hands of “Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.” 


Of course, the Russian intervention was not limited to confronting Al-Nusra and ISIS or protecting Damascus alone, but this was done in all Syrian regions witnessing military confrontations. And it was against all the armed opposition factions, which is still clinging to a myth of legitimacy, its intervention, which was carried out at the request of an alleged legitimate government. Therefore, anyone who takes up arms in Syria against this dictatorial government, or supports those bearing arms, is a 'terrorist'!


With this claim, Russia is giving itself the same justification that the United States has repeatedly used, the rationale of 'fighting terrorism,' to intervene in other countries and even invade them. 


As for the pretext of legitimacy that Russia takes, it is also invalid in all senses; it is not Russia that has the global decision to determine who is a terrorist and who is not a terrorist in the world. Nor is it the one who determines the legitimacy of this or that regime globally; according to the Russian pretext, every murderous tyrant in the world who seizes power in his country with fire and iron becomes a legitimate ruler. Just because his country is a member of the so-called 'United Nations.' He becomes the holder of the right to suppress every peaceful or armed opposition because the opposition here becomes a violation of this legitimacy and a violation of the law of the tyrant (legitimate) according to these corrupt and base standards of legitimacy! 


In any case, whatever myths Russia uses to justify its intervention in the Syrian conflict, it has intervened with the utmost violence and rudeness and turned the course of things upside down in the area west of the Euphrates. And it empowered the regime that was about to fall, despite all the support it had from Iran and its militias for four and a half years, from the restoration of most of the western Euphrates, he recaptured the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo; then, he recaptured Ghouta, Hauran, and large areas in Idlib. In addition to the countryside and suburbs of Damascus and the many regions that were under the control of the opposition in the governorates of Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo, Today, this regime militarily controls about two-thirds of the Syrian geography! This appears to be a decisive victory for Russia! 



But realistically, when analyzing the scenario of the Russian intervention, the matter is fundamentally different, and there are irrefutable facts that cannot be ignored in the most superficial analysis, and these facts include:


First: The Russian intervention came after making sure that Western intervention would not happen. The United States and its Western allies had a long enough time to intervene and resolve the conflict in Syria in favor of the Syrian opposition if they wanted to overthrow the Syrian regime.


Second: In all the decisive battles that took place under the leadership of Russia and its heavy support in eastern Aleppo, Ghouta, Daraa, or Idlib, the West did not provide any assistance to the fighting factions that would enable them to achieve military balance and steadfastness in the face of Russian interference, but instead left them alone in the front of a significant war power to face her inevitable fate.


Third: The worst of that is that the scenario of the opposition forces’ silence itself was applied in each of the decisive battles that Russia fought. During the war of eastern Aleppo, the fronts of Idlib, Ghouta, and Daraa remained silent. During the battle of Ghouta, the Idlib and Daraa fronts remained silent. The same thing happened when the regime headed for a decision in Daraa, and all this silence means enabling the government to single out the opposing fronts one after the other; When all of them were supposed to unite and coordinate their actions at the highest levels to prevent the regime from concentrating its forces in one area and to ensure superiority in it.


Fourth: When Russia militarily and politically violated all the understandings concluded based on the Geneva Communiqué and Security Council Resolution 2254, the United States and the West did nothing to compel Russia and the Syrian regime to implement the statement and resolution. Instead, they also left Russia to politically circumvent them through the farce of the Astana talks, which did not provide absolutely anything to resolve the crisis, but instead offered more time for the regime and its allies to make more and more gains and complicated the way for any real political change in Syria. 


The West could have supported the armed factions and put Russia in front of two options: either drowning in a quagmire of combative depletion that would repeat the Afghanistan scenario or force Russia and its regime to accept a real solution. Unfortunately, the West did not do that but instead was satisfied, and instead, America was satisfied with controlling the eastern Euphrates through Syrian forces democracy. 

Does this mean that Russia has won the game, eliminated the Syrian revolution, and can now reproduce the Syrian regime and impose it on everyone globally? 


This can be said to be impossible! 


The area controlled by the United States east of the Euphrates is certainly no less important than the area controlled by Russia to the west; this region is a large area suitable for agriculture and rich in oil and gas.



It is less destructive at the level of infrastructure. The displacement rate is less; it is in a much better position in terms of social and economic stability than the region controlled by Russia, which suffers from a severe, continuous, and growing economic collapse and has substantial internal and external displacement rates and similar destruction of infrastructure.  Also, social tensions in the area of Russian control left by the conflict or caused by economic deterioration are higher in this area than in the area east of the Euphrates. It did not witness a conflict between its population components, as the conflict was mainly between SDF and ISIS. It did not take an ethnic dimension, while sectarianism penetrated terribly in the area west of the Euphrates, The Russian military decisiveness left a lot of intense feelings of injustice and the desire for revenge and revenge, which are waiting for their chance to turn into action, which is something that Russia is not ignorant of.


Russia understands it is impossible to reproduce the old regime, restore its control over the entire Syrian territory and rehabilitate it globally. More than a quarter of Syria's eastern Euphrates is controlled now by America, and the value of this economic quarter is much higher than the proportion in the area. That is in addition to about ten percent of the high-value area also economically in Idlib, which is still in the hands of opposition forces supported mainly through Turkey. Therefore, Russia is fully aware that any military action in Western Euphrates is undoubtedly impossible with America's presence. Any military action to resolve the situation in Idlib is also hazardous, especially since the American silence is not guaranteed this time. 


So, can it be said that Russia will be satisfied with the region it controlled in the western Euphrates, and its word in it has become supreme? It is in control of it, while the role of the Syrian regime is no longer only a formality, and an implementation of the Russian will. Likewise, the part of Iran is no longer only an annex and subordinate to Russia? 


What prevents Russia from being satisfied with this region and re-floating the Syrian regime in it and ruling it through it, especially since it has become an utterly compliant regime, and it has every readiness to give Russia everything it wants in return for its remaining as a ruler on the inside, ruled from without by the Russians? 


Russia forced this regime to sign long-term contracts, and it has more than one military base on Syrian soil. In addition, the international airport, Tartous port, the central bank, the phosphate sector, and many others are under its control. As a result, Iran is no longer a strong rival inside Syria, especially since Russia has even possessed its striking military force represented by the Fifth Corps, which includes factions until recently fighting the Syrian regime, such as the Eighth Brigade Daraa by Ahmed Al-Awada. This brigade clashed more than once with the people of neighboring As-Suwayda, and its relations with the Fourth Division and Air Security recently witnessed an apparent deterioration. So why should Russia worry about its area of control, then, and what prevents it from re-floating the Syrian regime in it and making it a ruler and its agent over this region, as long as it has become a pliant vassal of Russia’s orders, so it responds?! 


There is more than one good reason for this: 


The first is the collapsed economy, whose collapse continues accelerating, and sooner or later may lead to a popular uprising.


Second: There is also a risk that the forces loyal to the Syrian regime will not remain faithful, especially since their elements are also suffering, like the rest of the Syrians, from economic collapse. 


Third: There are also sleeper cells from the remnants of the former armed and political groups, which do not want to approve in defeat; instead, it is waiting for the right opportunity to return the ball in a new way, this time being the “guerrilla war” that Russian planes and heavy weapons will not succeed in dealing with. 


Fourth: There is America, which will not remain silent if Russia refuses any satisfactory solution, and which - that is, America - is still entirely in control of the embargo card and economic sanctions and the Caesar Act, and expand their sanctions even on Russia itself, and can harm even the Russian economy itself. And America, with all its might, may not be satisfied with economic pressure. It can turn to field support for anti-Russian forces in the Russian sphere of influence if Russian intransigence prevents a solution from being reached. At the same time, Russia does not have any similar opportunity to destabilize the situation on America, neither economically nor militarily, in the east of the Euphrates.



Fifth: There is, of course, Iran, which can exploit all the above factors to play a more competitive and disturbing role for Russia in its area of dominance. 


Based on the preceding, it can be said that Russia is in an unsafe situation in its area of influence, and despite everything, that seems to be a clear victory for it. But, on the other hand, it is not far from the muddy in Syria, so it is trying to find a way out; its latest attempt was to persuade the Gulf states to ease their economic sanctions on the Syrian regime and be satisfied with 'smart sanctions against it.


Here, an objection may be raised that Russia can crack down on any popular movie that the economic collapse may cause. It has no objection to that or even has no objection to using the scorched-earth policy if necessary. On the contrary, she has repeatedly done so repeatedly during her previous battles against the opposing factions. That is right; she does not mind if she guarantees the result or if she does not have any better options or alternatives! 


Russia is aware of the seriousness of the economic factor that America can still control entirely. It is aware that a popular movement can happen at any moment, and it is also aware that the loyalist forces themselves are not safe from a similar trend. You are also aware that any violence against any popular movement is linked to the deterioration of living this time. And it is completely capable of happening in most loyal areas, which will significantly increase the possibility of military rebellion. It is foolish to think that the soldiers who themselves suffer from the deterioration of living will remain silent. They see their hungry people being violently suppressed because they rose from starvation, and with an American willingness to support and exploit all this. In addition to the danger of dormant cells and the ability of these cells to grow significantly in such conditions, Russia is threatened with drowning in a real quagmire in Syria, which could destroy its gains and turn its victory into a defeat.


So, what should Russia do? 


Russia needs a real solution in Syria, and this is the real guarantor of its interest, and its need for such a solution is much more urgent than America's need for it. And its ability to procrastinate in it is much less than Americans, for America can remain reassured east of the Euphrates. It only must ensure no severe tensions between Arabs and Kurds, although this is not easy. However, she has succeeded in it so far, and she can succeed in it more if she considers both parties' interests. And it prevented the SDF from carrying out any actions that could provoke the Arabs east of the Euphrates and thus could block any Russian intervention in this area. 


Russia cannot do something similar unless it imposes a fundamental change on the existing system, as it continues to bet on this system with its current sectarian structure. It will make it biased in the eyes of the rest of the parties to this party. It will remain in the eyes of everyone who revolted, rebelled, or rose against this regime, an opponent, and an enemy, i.e., in short and explicit. It would be hostile and antagonistic to most of the Sunnis, who still constitute most of the population in Russian control. It is not to mention that it will also be a little party in the eyes of other minorities such as Christians, Druze, and others, and it will become an enemy to them and the rest of the Sunnis. They did not move previously against the regime if it violently suppressed them if they rose because of the deteriorating living situation. It means that Russia, to be in a safe position in its area of control, needs a natural solution that improves the living situation on the one hand. On the other hand, all the population components in its place of power feel that they are at close distances from all of them, and such a solution requires imposing a radical change on the existing system. 


Is Russia capable of such a solution? 


The answer is, in the end, compelled, as it is betting on the Assad regime in its usual form, although it is comfortable for it in terms of that this regime is ready today to give it everything it wants in exchange for its survival. But, on the other hand, it carries risks that can later lead to those gains and replace most with losses. And the solution that makes Russia’s interests secure in Syria is the solution that satisfies America and the West in general abroad and is equally satisfactory at home on the economic and political levels. The two parts of this solution are intrinsically linked. Improving the living situation at home, for example, requires lifting the sanctions and siege imposed by America and its allies; and America will not do that without a political solution that satisfies it, and this requires a sufficient change in the regime inside Syria! 


What about removing Iran from Syria and making peace with Israel in exchange for the survival of the Assad regime? 


If we assume that such a settlement can be acceptable to the West, and to be more precise, the United States gives Russia a free hand in Syria. And here, a new fundamental question arises, which is why Russia would then need the corrupt Assad regime. It is fully aware of the extent of its corruption and is fully aware that in this corrupt form, he was unable to protect his interests when he was at the height of his power before 2011. So, what then is the benefit of reproducing it and betting on it in the days of its affliction? 



Here, it can be said with a high probability that Russia itself will eventually find that this regime has become dependent on it, apart from what the Syrians will see as a regional bias in Russia’s position if it continues its alliance with this regime. Hence, the feelings of anger, wrath, and resentment that may arise from this, and the various reactions that may occur against Russia related to these feelings with its usual arrogance and corruption, the survival of this regime is a reason to generate more feelings of anger and resentment, which in turn will lead to more readiness and readiness for opposite reactions. Even worse, the survival of this corrupt regime will remain a factor preventing any reconstruction or investment in Syria. It will be rare to find someone who would venture to support the Syrian economy or invest in it in the presence of such a corrupt, arrogant clique and then the economic deterioration and its significant risks will continue. Furthermore, the refugee problem - which is a real international problem - will remain, as most refugees will not risk returning to Syria to put themselves at the mercy of a tyrannical junta that has repeatedly arrested many returning refugees. In addition to that, of course, is the deteriorating economic conditions, which make most of those at the home dream of emigrating, so what about those who emigrated or sought refuge in the first place?! In such circumstances - and as mentioned above - Russian gains will be limited, surrounded by significant and many risks. But if Russia goes to an acceptable solution, it will become an essential part of the solution in the eyes of most Syrians. Instead of being a necessary part of the problem, most Syrians' view of it, and their attitude towards it, will change for the better. And they will see it as a partner and not an opponent or an enemy, and the real solution, which rids the country of the corrupt, authoritarian junta, will put the economy on the path of improvement. It will prevent the risks coming from the economy gate, as it will encourage supporters and economic investors to participate in the reconstruction. And investing in Syria, and Russia, with its significant presence and influence in Syria, will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this matter. The Syrian environment itself will become a very suitable environment for Russian investments. The returns on Russian interests will be much greater than what Russia can take from the current corrupt regime! 


So why is Russia still today not making any real effort to achieve a real solution, and its policy seems to be doing the opposite? 


In the opinion of the Syrian dissident and writer, Professor Dr. Mahmoud al-Hamza, who specializes in Russian affairs, 'Moscow is afraid of replacing Assad without American guarantees. This means that Russia fears that replacing Assad will weaken its position inside Syria, which America could use against it, thus double the risk of changing Assad on Russian interests. Of course, such fear is justified by Russia, if it exists, but it is evident that America so far does not want to “embed” Russia in muddy Syria. Therefore, it does not seek to expel Russia from Syria or reduce its influence there. The clear proof of this is that America has done nothing against Russia since Russia began its direct and decisive participation in the war against the Syrian opposition factions in the last quarter of 2015. America could have fully supported these factions enough to involve Russia in a costly war of attrition like the Afghan war. But it did not do that.


Rather, it was content only with controlling the area east of the Euphrates and ensuring a state of influence equilibrium with Russia. In addition to that, America has been since the beginning of the Russian military intervention. Until today, it has not done anything even on the political front. Rather, it has left Russia to control the political path through the series 'Astana,' which Russia has not wanted to produce anything constructive until now! Today, after more than 5 years of Russian intervention, Russia has decided the matter militarily in most of the western Euphrates. America’s ability to turn the tables on Russia in this region had become much weaker than it was before the beginning of the Russian intervention when the Syrian regime was about to fall! It is incredibly naive to assume that the Americans were ignorant that this would result from the Russian intervention west of the Euphrates. Also, it is incredibly naive to think that the Russians do not understand the reality of the American position, so they interpret it as helplessness or weakness! The American position, which the Russians fully understand, has only one meaning: America was tacitly approving of Russian military intervention, and even tacit approval of Russia's control throughout the political solution. Does this mean that America agrees with the results that resulted from Russian behavior? 


We can answer this by trying to answer precisely what America wants in Syria; when we look at this, we will find that Syria is not economically attractive to America enough to engage in an international struggle to control it. The relatively attractive part east of Al-Farq is now under safe American control, and the Assad regime did not, in and of itself, pose any real danger to Israel. And his borders with it were entirely secure for nearly four decades before the beginning of the Syrian crisis. The only inconvenience to America in Syria was caused by Iranian influence, which constituted a threat to some extent to the security of Israel. 


Therefore, it can be said that what America mainly wants from Russia is to keep Iran away. As for the survival or demise of the Assad regime, it is a secondary thing, especially after America, in agreement with Russia, stripped this regime of its chemical weapons and brought it to the point of military and economic bankruptcy over the years of the war. Nevertheless, it can be said that America indeed prefers to change this regime for moral considerations related to the prestige of America itself, which has already announced more than once that Assad’s political future is over, Assad's survival, in this case, means that America failed, and that Russia won. 


That is for America; what about Europe? 


Realistically, it can be said that whatever Europe wants, Europe's ability to influence the course of events in Syria is weak, and it is dependent on and dependent on the American position. But it is not actually without effect on him, as the Americans cannot underestimate the interests of their European allies when formulating their policies.  But these interests, of course, lag the American interests in the priorities, and Europe in Syria is interested in change for more than one reason; one of the most urgent in the short term is the refugee problem, which will not be resolved if the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate politically, security and economically. 


How will Russia respond to that? 


Of course, Russia fully welcomes the expulsion of Iran from all arenas of military, political, and economic competition from Syria. Still, at the same time, it does not want to lose Iran as an ally and turn it into an opponent. Moreover, she has no problem with Israel's security, about which the Russian Foreign Minister said: (The safety of the State of Israel is Russia's number one priority), Russia is not attached to the Syrian regime, and it has no objection to abandoning it or imposing change on it when this serves its interests. 

So why has Russia not taken any action to serve the real solution in Syria, and all its policy seems to be seeking to re-empower the Assad regime there? 


This can be traced back to the following: 


First: Russia has not yet been subjected to enough external pressures, especially from America, to do so; as it is clear, America is satisfied with the economic pressure directed mainly against the Syrian regime. It is a dictatorial regime that only cares about its interests. And he does not care about the harm that this corrupt interest inflicts on his people, no matter how great this harm is, the sanctions and the blockade suffer mainly from the people, and their effect on the junta is of little importance! 


Second: Despite all the deterioration of the situation in Syria, there have not yet been any new widespread reactions in which Russia can see an urgent danger that requires rapid change; this is mainly due to the loss of mass action mechanisms and the blurring and confusion of the political vision on the one hand in the former loyalist areas. And to the denounced defeat inflicted on the armed opposition organizations, which were predominantly Islamist in the areas controlled by these organizations. It created great fear among the residents of these areas, who remained in them or returned to them, of the danger of a recurrence of the rebellion. It also left a feeling He is frustrated with its uselessness, significantly since these areas have been greatly affected by the armed confrontations that have taken place in them. Some of them suffer from an enormous degree of destruction.


Third: The Syrian regime has become a puppet in the hands of Russia, and it can impose whatever it wants on it, even though Iran is still present and supports this regime and rejects any change in it, Russia's word has become supreme, and it can now impose on the government any contracts it wants, and blackmail it as it wants. 


Fourth: About Iran, Russia is comfortable with the Israeli strikes that weaken the Iranian presence in Syria, and thus Russia does not bear the responsibility for this weakening. Therefore, it does not enter a confrontation with Iran but instead maintains a valuable degree of Iranian presence, providing some economic support to the Syrian regime. It also remains valid for use as an ally if things go wrong and develop into a confrontation between Russia and the West in Syria, which remains possible despite its weak possibilities. 


Thus, Russia does not find itself now obliged to make any real change. On the contrary, it is taking advantage of the time it must expand and consolidate its interests inside Syria to the maximum extent possible as long as the opportunity still exists. 


Of course, this situation cannot last, and America, which continues with economical pressure, is aware of what it is doing; Russia, in turn, is aware that the popular reaction to the deteriorating financial situation will inevitably come if the course of things does not change. Russia is also aware that the American economic pressure aims to uprise if Russia does not go to a satisfactory settlement. Russia understands that America will not stand idly by the rebellion that it has primarily pushed to happen. And then the matter may turn into a new multi-level confrontation that is neither guaranteed nor beneficial in results Russia, on the other hand, as an alternative. As previously mentioned, if it goes to an acceptable political settlement, it will avert the danger of confrontation with America and the West. It creates an internal breakthrough and encourages the contributors to the reconstruction. It also encourages investors to come to Syria. With its influence in Syria, it will have a great opportunity to actively participate in investment in the Syrian environment, which will then be suitable.



That is what Russia is supposed to know very well, and that it is smart enough not to ignore or deal with indifference or arrogance with it. And Russia is now playing in the timeout, and the Syrian people will bear the further deterioration of their livelihood, which will not last. And it will not last long, and she cannot change this living situation. So, people grumbled about Russia, and their responsibility for it has become clear and is increasing significantly. And America can still interfere and influence, so will Russia turn a blind eye to all this? 


At the Doha meeting on November 11, 32021, the foreign ministers of Qatar, Turkey, and Russia affirmed their commitment to reaching a political solution based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.[6], It means that Russia is well aware that it cannot evade these entitlements and impose a new reality on the ground by ignoring them. The reasons for this have been explained above; Also; according to Wael Alwan, a Syrian researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies; there is confirmed information about the decline in the powers of the Baath Party because of a Russian security plan that Russia relies on its affiliated and local agencies and institutions to implement, such as the National Security Office. The State Security Department and parties in the Republican Palace coordinate directly with the Russian Embassy in Damascus. The Russian plan includes reducing the influence and interventions of the Baath Party in the Syrian government and its ministries. Especially the ministries of economy, finance, internal trade, education, and higher education, the institutions and directorates that follow these ministries and this plan aroused outstanding disagreements and objections from high levels in the Baath Party during the first half of March 2021. [7].


These matters can be considered to some extent as indicators of Russia's awareness of the need for change. Still, they are not sufficient to consider them as evidence of Russia's seriousness in dealing with the issue of change! 


Will Russia continue to stall and evade, or will it finally be committed to deserving the inevitable change?

This is what will not be long-awaited for clarification and what will be revealed soon. 

[1] - Russia today, Lavrov: 3 weeks were separating Damascus from the fall, 17 1 2017.

[2] -  Arab 21, Qadri Jamil believes Lavrov if it were not for Russia, Damascus would have fallen, 26 32017.

[3] Euronews,  a human rights group warns of the return of refugees to areas controlled by the Syrian regime, 16102019.


[4] -  Mahmoud al-Hamza, Moscow fears replacing Assad without U.S. guarantees, Syrian pages, quoted by Hermon Center, 2532021.

[5] -  Previous reference.

[6] -  Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), Qatar, Turkey and Russia confirm their commitment to pushing for a political solution in Syria, 1132021.

[7] -  Wael Alwan, Fate of the Arab Baath Socialist Party in Syria, Nidaa Post, 16 32021.



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