The Russians will not let go of Assad and neither will we

To understand the recent changes, we may have to re-evaluate the political and military situation in Syria

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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To understand the recent changes, we may have to re-evaluate the political and military situation in Syria. We may also have to ask the following question: If Russia hadn’t sided with Bashar al-Assad’s regime and hadn’t supported it, would this have changed the course of the Syrian revolution?

The Russians played a major political role, one that is more than a decisive military role. This should not make us underestimate the massive support which Moscow has presented to the regime in Damascus to help it defeat the opposition forces in many rebellious areas. However, Assad could have acquired advanced weapons from the warehouses of his major ally, Iran, which in effect handled and coordinated Syrian defensive needs procurement and financing from international markets through different methods.

The most important role Russia has played is political – they succeeded in obstructing and sabotaging various international political projects

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The most important role Russia has played is political – they succeeded in obstructing and sabotaging various international political projects. They also overindulged in using their veto power to obstruct decisive U.N. Security Council resolutions and made it easier for hesitant and opposing Western parties not to support the Syrian opposition. Therefore, we can see that Moscow has, for more than three years, played a dangerous game by obstructing change in Damascus. Moscow is behind the extension of the Syrian humanitarian tragedy, a tragedy which the region has not hitherto seen the likes of.

Harboring a delusion?

Burhan Ghalioun, member of the Syrian coalition, rightly criticizes his comrades in the Syrian opposition for boarding the first plane to Moscow whenever they receive an invitation, harboring a delusion that President Vladimir Putin has changed his mind and is willing to cooperate.

Ghalioun says: “Russia’s stance on Assad has never changed. However, some of us don’t understand the meaning of the Russians’ statements. Since the first meeting with them in 2011, after the establishment of the national council, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov said they’re not married to Assad and they don’t have special relations with him and that Assad has in fact visited Western countries more than they ever have. Ghalioun clarified that when the Russians indicate that they are not defending Assad and that they do not back him in particular, they don’t actually mean they are willing to abandon him.

The Russians mince their words but their stance is always the same. They are with Assad as long as he’s alive and in the presidential palace in Damascus. The region’s countries communicate with Moscow and supply services in hope that the latter will soften its stance, but this has not yielded any results worth mentioning. Even Moscow’s stance regarding Egypt is a foregone conclusion - i.e. it’s with Cairo against Washington, or rather with the standing regime. Regarding the dangerous challenge which the Russian regime faces due to the Western siege, Russia is not a party that deserves all this attention from the Syrian opposition. Russia will not alter its stance in Syria or toward any other zone of conflict. And as Ghalioun says: “In every meeting with Lavrov, the Syrian opposition falls in the trap and spreads illusions again before realizing Moscow’s trick and deceit. Moscow has not changed its stance.”

The opposition’s option is to organize its ranks and place its bets on the ground military option. It is the only way the Russians and the Americans will listen. The Russian and American governments, caught between besieged Assad and brutal terrorism, have no other choice but to deal with the opposition.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 17, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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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