Is Russia fighting for the last of Assad’s Syria?

Moscow is looking to prop up what is left of Assad’s “useful Syria” – the mini Alawite coastal state

Mohamed Chebarro
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Russia’s renewed deployment of both men and advanced hardware in Syria is, I believe, another indicator that the Assad regime is losing hope of forming an Alawite state, or what has been referred to as a “mini Syria”.

The Russian deployment of soldiers, or ‘advisers’, and modern equipment is explained by Moscow as a means to prop up the global fight against ISIS in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

But the reality is that the Russians are looking to prop up what is left of President Bashar al-Assad's “useful Syria” – or the “mini” Alawite coastal state – which is seen as the endgame for Damascus should it fail to regain all of Syria.

The Russian move is also tacitly intended to deny Tehran a monopoly in any future settlement of the Syrian crisis.

Latakia is key

The Latakia area seems to be teetering as opposition forces group and edge closer, travelling through the al-Ghab valley.

For the option of a “mini Syria” state to remain viable, then the coastal areas need to remain intact.

Mohamed Chebarro

Regime troops aided by local Alawite militias trained by the Iranians, and supported by Iraqi, Afghani and Lebanese militias and recruits, look destined to fail in defending Assad’s heartland of Latakia in the long run.

But for the option of a “mini Syria” state to remain viable, then the coastal areas need to remain intact.

And Russia under President Vladimir Putin is expert at keeping loyal enclaves protected, as we saw in the Crimea region, and later in Eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s renewed effort in Syria also acts as a counterbalance to an active Iranian agenda, which is seen as a policy to extend its foothold in the Mediterranean through propping up a weak Syria without a strong central army.

Washington, though still firm in its policy of fighting ISIS being its sole priority in the Middle East, sees no issue in allowing Moscow space to promote what it has long called for.

For Russia, the settlement in Syria should be based on Geneva-1 – and Moscow-1, two and three.

It is a settlement based on a transition government made up of mild opponents of the regime, with President Assad as a symbolic president. This is a formula rejected by a least half the Syrian public and most Arab countries, as well as Turkey. For those see Assad and his allies in Tehran and Moscow as part of the problem – not the solution.

Since the initially peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011, Russia’s Putin saw the events as a fight against terror, rather than a rebellion against Assad’s dynastic dictatorship.

After nearly five years more than 300,000 Syrians have been killed; there are one million injured, imprisoned or missing; and in excess of ten million displaced.

It is a three-way war, with the regime and its allies fighting foreign-induced terror, the opposition groups fighting for a united Syria without Assad, and ISIS fighting against the rest.

Yet it is evident that the solution proposed by Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has not changed. Moscow thinks that Syrians must decide for themselves what government they want – albeit one under Assad’s symbolic rule – and disregards the constant death, destruction and displacement of surviving citizens.

Russia’s flawed vision for Syria's future

If president Putin’s vision for ending the conflict is facilitated by a neutral Obama administration, and a Europe frightened of further waves of refugees arriving at its shores, then it will not be an exaggeration to suggest that we might witness the following in the months to come.

President Putin will send in more troops and marines – as well as fighter jets. Thousands of Iranian advisors and troops – in addition to 5000-plus Hezbollah fighters already there, as well as more Iraqi and Afghani militia – will surely be a force to stabilize ‘useful Syria’.

This cocktail of troops and militias - without, of course, the half of the Syrian population that have been displaced - will likely hold the ground until a peace conference is held under the banner of the ‘global fight against terror’.

Such is the logical conclusion of the highly flawed peace plan envisaged by Moscow, that – who knows! – maybe ISIS foreign fighters could swap hats and play the role of international monitors.

Mohamed Chebarro

This phoney plan, championed by Moscow and an internationally rehabilitated Tehran, would proclaim to find a solution for the Syrian crisis.

This will result in a transitory government, and a date set for parliamentary elections that will allow the Syrians to decide democratically what they want and how they wish to govern their fractured nation.

The Iranian troops or advisors, Moscow’s marines, and the militias already present in Syria will double-up with forces led by U.N. special envoy Staffan De Mistura, to protect a free and fair election once it is finally called for by Moscow, Tehran – and Washington, maybe.

Such is the logical conclusion of this highly flawed peace plan envisaged by Moscow, that – who knows! – maybe ISIS foreign fighters could swap hats under this Russian deal, and play the role of international monitors.

Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC News and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

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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