Russian protection will not save Assad

The Syrian regime won’t survive whether Moscow and Iran support it or abandon it

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Recently, some observers have expressed concern that Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine and Crimea is keeping it from supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. However, Syria’s propaganda machine rushed to reassure them, citing the Russian-Chinese statement in support of the Syrian regime. It also cited Moscow’s pledge to use its veto power to prevent transferring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the investigation of possible war crimes. Russia, of course, voiced its support of the farce of re-electing Assad and said: “Be assured as Russia is confident that Assad will restore his control across the country within three years.”

The Russians know well that the Assad regime failed in the war despite the massive support received from Russia and Iran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Russia can use its veto power all it wants at the U.N. Security Council, but this won’t be enough to keep the Assad regime in power. Political statements won’t do the latter any good either. Russia’s act of preventing the transfer of Syria’s war crimes to the ICC is a new Russian crime. Meanwhile, Russia has exhausted all efforts to aid the regime, from military capabilities, to intelligence information to indirect management of on-the-ground fighting. Most Syrian territories remain outside the control of Assad despite all this support. The Assad regime even failed to halt fighting in the areas surrounding Homs, a city which it besieged, starved, destroyed and forced fighters out of. Opposition armed forces have also renewed attacks on the capital Damascus.

Incapable regime

The Russians know well that the Assad regime failed in the war despite the massive support received from Russia and Iran. Foreign forces and militias fight most battles on behalf of the Syrian army, yet the regime is still incapable of altering the status quo. Assad will thus be toppled by the majority of the revolting Syrian people. In case the United States continues to refuse to support the Syrians, then the regime will collapse due to the spread of extremist groups that desire to expand their control. These groups will probably head towards Damascus at a later stage.

Thus, the Syrian regime won’t survive whether Moscow and Iran support it or abandon it. Meanwhile, Iran is currently expressing its willingness to accept a political solution to the Syrian conflict - even if its price is the isolation of Assad. Although Iranian demands are still unreasonable, there’s always a middle ground we can agree on at the right time.

No position to tamper

Russia remains involved in the Ukrainian crisis and it’s in no position to tamper with a faraway region like the Middle East. Russia is currently confronting its biggest ordeal since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s struggling to control the situation as it fears its former republics will follow in Ukraine’s footsteps. Now that Russia has lost Ukraine, it has practically lost its most important ally in the world. This is all a result of the same mentality Russia is also adopting towards Syria. Russia has insisted on imposing a president despite the people’s rejection. It also insisted on forcefully bringing him back to power. However, Viktor Yanukovych was eventually toppled in a popular revolution which turned into indignation against Moscow itself - indignation which pushed the Ukrainians to demand joining NATO.

The Russians are at the beginning of an economic war and diplomatic confrontation with the U.S. and not with the small Free Syrian Army. As time passes by and pressures increase, Russia will be the one in need of foreign support. So what will the Iranians and Syrians give to Russia? On the practical level, Iran and Syria are a political burden on Russia. Iran cannot continue to go on under this strict siege and the Assad regime is bankrupt and it cannot even pay for its food. All we can say is that Moscow’s policy is foolish. It really is.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 22, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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