Will Russia’s stance on Syria ever change?

Russia’s special envoy for the Middle East discussed with the U.S. special envoy for Syria the prospects of a political settlement for Syria in Moscow on Friday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the head of a major Syrian opposition bloc on Monday. The following day, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s stance that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is legitimate. The resolution of the Syrian conflict is strongly connected with Russia now, but that does not make the task easy.

Syria has become a matter of honor for Russia after Libya was left to the mercy of the international coalition. Moscow considers Assad as necessary to keep Syria from splitting up and to stop the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Russia has succeeded in making Syria free from chemical weapons, thus depriving the West from a strong pretext to intervene.

After the failure of the Geneva I and II conferences, Russia held Moscow I and II, attempting to unite the Syrian opposition and make it talk with the Assad government. They were unsuccessful, and revealed that the opposition is very divided and politically immature. This shows that if Assad stepped down now, the opposition would fight each other instead of being productive, and Syria would fragment.

No ideas

Neither Moscow nor Washington, another key player in the conflict, seem to have any idea how to unify the opposition for talks on Syria’s future. The opposition is waiting for someone to help resolve its disputes rather than doing so itself. This disunity consolidates Moscow’s belief that the international community should stop talking about Assad resigning until the opposition decides what is more important – the future of Syria or its political ambitions.

Russia has succeeded in making Syria free from chemical weapons, thus depriving the West from a strong pretext to intervene

Maria Dubovikova

However, responsibility for the ongoing conflict lays mostly on Assad’s shoulders, as an ineffective leader who did not implement needed reforms at the right time. Thus, he shares responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in a conflict complicated by ISIS. The rest of the responsibility lays on the shoulders of all the global players who were interested in using Syria for their geopolitical interests.

Russia will never be involved on the ground in Syria, only as a mediator. It will continue talks with opposition parties and ask them to unite. Until that happens, Moscow will call Assad legitimate. It will continue to support separate players in their fight against ISIS via military supplies and intelligence. This Russian foreign policy has emerged from past experience and the mistakes of global players.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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