What form will Russian involvement in Syria take?
To make direct involvement happen, the dividends should outweigh possible losses
When Russian involvement in Syria is viewed in the context of supporting President Bashar al-Assad, reaction is totally negative. When it is considered as part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the perception is mostly positive. The difference is determined by the fact that some players are mostly concerned by ISIS, others by the bloodshed of the Syrian civil war.
Some - such as Moscow - consider Assad the key force to fighting ISIS, even though only 10 percent of his army’s battles are with ISIS. Others consider Syrian rebels the main force to fight ISIS, though the credibility and origin of most rebel fighters raise valid concerns.
Russian support to Damascus is nothing new. Military contracts were not signed yesterday. Moscow intensifying its activities in Syria is quite predictable. So with regard to whether Russia will get involved, it already is. But should we expect direct military involvement in the form of ground combat or airstrikes?
Risk and reward
The risks for Russian national security are extremely high, as ISIS has made threats against Russia, which has more than 2,700 citizens fighting for the jihadist group. To make direct involvement happen, the dividends should outweigh possible losses, but Russia will never send troops to fight on the ground.
To make direct involvement happen, the dividends should outweigh possible losses, but Russia will never send troops to fight on the ground.Maria Dubovikova
Direct involvement depends on whether the West and its regional allies come to accept Assad as part of the solution in Syria, or whether they maintain that he is part of the problem. Partially accepting Assad as part of the solution against ISIS would mean Moscow becoming a key mediator between Damascus and the U.S.-led coalition, as well as coordination between various forces.
The key feature of any broad anti-ISIS cooperation is that any action should be U.N.-mandated and correspond to international law. The role of mediator would be sufficient for Moscow’s ambitions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s U.N. General Assembly speech shows that his position is unchangeable. He would most likely prefer to remain the great supporter of Iraq and Syria in their fight against ISIS, without taking part in airstrikes, unless he is forced by circumstances or if the stakes dramatically rise.
Russian mediation in talks with Damascus, along with military and humanitarian aid to Syrians on condition that delivered weapons never be used against rebels, could be the best scenario for all players. This will avoid confrontation, encourage cooperation, and lay a reliable foundation for common resolution of regional and global crises on the basis of mutual trust.
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
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