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Putin is a man with a plan for Syria

The need to unite against ISIS is less powerful than most countries’ common hatred of him

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

Russia is very sceptical about the effectiveness of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), not least because it is not U.N.-approved, so it lacks an overall vision and communication between the various ground forces.

The decision to carry out airstrikes against anyone who attacks rebels trained by Washington to fight ISIS is considered provocative, as it automatically puts Syrian government forces at risk, and could further escalate the situation.

Tired of numerous attempts by global powers to involve it in the coalition, Russia has proposed its own vision of what the “right” coalition should look like. This vision was shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud during the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. Details were not revealed until Russia’s foreign minister visited Qatar earlier this month.

At its core, the “Putin Plan” adds nothing new to what Russia has already revealed about its position on the conflict, which has remained unchanged despite global and regional developments.

The plan calls for a broader coalition to fight ISIS, including Syrian government forces, the Iraqi army and the Kurds. What is remarkable is that Iran was not mentioned, apparently in order not to upset Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Tehran will soon present its own plan to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Assad’s fate

Russia is trying to convince others that the only way to fight ISIS effectively is to “forgive” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, it has failed to convince the Americans or the Saudis. Turkey has also strongly criticized the Russian plan, as Ankara opposes Assad remaining in power and his involvement in any effort to counter ISIS. Turkey also opposes Kurdish involvement.

The need to unite against ISIS is less powerful than most countries’ common hatred of him.

Maria Dubovikova

Russia insists on Assad staying in power and continuing to fight ISIS. Moscow believes that if he steps down, no one will be able to keep the Syrian army united, thus enabling ISIS to spread further.

However, this does not mean that Russia insists on him staying in power indefinitely - on the contrary. This has been demonstrated by the Moscow-I and Moscow-II meetings. Russia believes in transition in post-war Syria, but its priority now is to fight ISIS as a step to resolving the conflict.

Russian diplomacy

Moscow’s contribution in reaching the Iran nuclear deal was enormous, and made the West speak positively about Russia practically for the first time since the start of the Ukraine crisis. This has inspired Moscow to further persuade the West that it is a needed and peaceful partner in conflict-resolution.

Putin’s attempts to resolve the Syrian conflict puts him at the center of a total mess, but he feels confident. He already has one positive experience in the crisis, when his initiative to remove all chemical weapons from Syria saved the country from becoming like Libya, and saved the world from catastrophe. However, that was easier than fighting ISIS.

Putin’s involvement comes not only from rising great-power ambitions, but from greater threats to Russia. More than 2,000 of its citizens are fighting for ISIS, and this number is rising. However, involvement in the coalition it proposes does not imply Russian boots on the ground or warplanes over Syria and Iraq. Moscow is only willing to be involved diplomatically.

Most likely, the “Putin Plan” will not be accepted because of its stance on the fate of Assad. The need to unite against ISIS is less powerful than most countries’ common hatred of him.

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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

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