28.09.2013 Author: Viktor Titov

Syria and Russia: A Real Dilemma

syria-russia_2131332cMany conservative American political experts, connected to the Republican Party “hawks”, believe that, supposedly, it is becoming more apparent as deliberations on Syrian chemical weapons continues, that the Russian “triumph” over the U.S. on the issue of Syrian chemical weapons is simply a misconception. According to them, President Putin is dragging Russia deeper and deeper into the Syrian quagmire. Because, allegedly, there is a chance that it will become Russia’s new Afghanistan. The decision of President Obama to abandon the idea of an air and missile strike on Syria in exchange for the Syrian chemical weapons resolution, according the neoconservative extremists, is only a temporary tactical win for President Putin. This was one of the supposed goals of the Russian leader. His more long-term objective, according to them, is to thwart the plans of U.S.-Saudi expansion in the Middle East, although Washington would like to call it “spreading democracy”.

Nevertheless, the Republican “hawks” are confident that a tactical win is not at all the same thing as a long-term strategic success. Even a whole series of tactical wins, with which Russia was able to completely dissuade American persistence with regards to Damascus, is not at all a strategic victory. In the opinion of many right-wing American analysts, Moscow is currently almost fully responsible for the stockpile of Syrian chemical weapons and their disarmament. Meanwhile, Syria, according to the American “hawks” and their Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is almost on its last legs, it is broken and numerous insurgents and the Al-Qaeda are operating on her territory. Arguments are also being thrown around that the rebel ranks contain a few hundred insurgents from the Northern Caucasus. For a concrete example, they mention the supposed leader of an especially brutal branch of Al-Qaeda, the Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, which is currently fighting in Syria. He is allegedly Chechen and his group is responsible for the most heinous crimes, such as executions by decapitation, as well as abducting two priests in Aleppo. This group has damaged the “reputation” of the insurgents to such an extent with these acts, that many of them even claim that the group, or at the very least a part of it, is headed by Russian secret services.

It is widely known that the Northern Caucasus jihadists in Riyadh and Doha are regularly instructed to concentrate on clandestinely “fighting” against Russia in those parts of the Northern Caucasus where Muslims currently reside, which is Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan. This was even before Russia got involved in the Syrian conflict. But now, of which the right-wing American analysts are certain, the Caucasus insurgents will be given a wonderful opportunity to fight Russia directly in Syria, if, as was promised by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Moscow will provide her own forces to protect the international inspectors, who will be in Syria as part of the program to destroy its chemical weapons, which is stipulated in the Geneva resolution between Russia and the U.S. that was backed by the UN.

The White House is clearly proceeding from the assumption that there needs to be a an absolute agreement between Moscow and Damascus that Russia will defend Assad until the end, because it has robbed Syria of its last means of deterrence and intimidation in the form of its chemical weapons, and that Russia is now connecting its future in the region with this regime, like it happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s. However, if Assad is to be victorious, or at the very least manages to retain some sort of power, then this, according to American “hawks”, will guarantee the interests of, primarily, Iran. Presently, they claim, Russian intentions in Syria are unclear, aside from the feelings of her own self-esteem and her political ambitions in the Middle East.

Furthermore, if we are to distance ourselves from Damascus a bit, the Republican Party neo-conservatives are certain that Putin is firmly opposing the anti-Syrian resolution of the Security Council because, in his time, his predecessor Medvedev allowed the passing of a similar resolution against Libya, after which he felt himself betrayed when the West used this resolution to overthrow Gadhafi. Moscow’s arguments, both then and later on, always seemed strange to the West because even then, before the Security Council vote, it was absolutely clear that the resolution, backed by Britain and France with Arab support, paid for by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, plainly pursued the goal of overthrowing the regime of the Libyan colonel. This is why, currently, Putin needs to defend Assad through and through to avoid repeating the incident in Libya, and even the one in Iraq too, when the leaders of those countries – even if they were odious, they allied with Russia – were killed in the most brutal manner, the gruesome scenes of which were broadcasted on international television.

The Washington “hawks” cynically claim that when Putin leaves his post as the head of the Russian Federation, he will be unable to restore Russia’s place in the world. It is more likely that, they claim, his opposition to the west will be seen as an attempt to conceal Russia’s continuing economic decline, which also inhibits really preventing this process of restoring Russia’s place in the world. At the same time, according to Washington analysts, the worst that can be said of President Obama is that he is repeating the Afghanistan mistakes of President Bush with Syria. In standing on the sidelines and watching as Syria is ablaze with the fires of civil war, he is likely creating Syria’s problems of tomorrow. Assad, Washington claims, is unlikely to regain control over the country, which can very likely become a lawless expanse for Al-Qaeda operations. This is exactly what happened in Afghanistan.

But the issue is that, strategically speaking, the U.S. would not lose a whole lot if that situation were to arise within Syria. They are still left with powerful and wealthy allies in the Middle East, such as Israel and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. If Washington is able to somehow strike a deal with Iran under the new president Rouhani (although the chances of that are very slim, but it is too early to completely rule out an agreement), then its positions will strengthen even in the event that the Syrian conflict is extended. Russia must realize that if some sort of deal is reached between Teheran and Washington and Iranian oil returns to the market, the prices for the “black gold” will plummet and Russia’s oil-based economy will be in danger.

A question remains: what about Assad? Will he benefit from such a deal? The answer is – not likely. The insurgents are just as close to Damascus as they were on August 21. They are still controlling a sizeable part of the country. All of this is worsened further by the influx of Arabian mercenaries that began to arrive in the middle of September of this year. They have undergone training in special camps in Jordan and Turkey, paid for with Wahhabi money of Riyadh and Doha, with the help of instructors from the CIA. According to information from Arabian sources, a large group of insurgents has already arrived in Syria, or will arrive at any moment, from Afghanistan, and they have been trained in the latest methods of destroying armored vehicles and aircraft, conducting sabotage operations and are equipped with the necessary weapons.

The Syrian conflict is just heating up and predicting the shape and form of its conclusion is a thankless job, if not completely pointless.

Viktor Titov has a Ph.D. in historical sciences and is a political analyst on the Middle East, with a special report for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.