Russia’s intervention in Syria: Is it all bad?

Russia’s intervention has made clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not fall

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Published: Updated:

Russia’s intervention in Syria is a game-changer in a volatile region. This alone is cause for great concern. What makes it worse is that it is an intervention to sustain a regime that has committed countless atrocities against the Syrian people.

Saudi Arabia has been vocal in its opposition to the intervention, and government sources have said it will continue to support the Syrian rebels. But with its drawbacks, I believe there are some positive outcomes from Russia’s intervention, which we will see soon.

First, the whole security architecture of the region has changed. While the U.S. role is diminishing, it is endorsing Iran as a regional player. The result is both an imbalance of power and a power vacuum.

Second, the Saudis are aware of the impact of this, and have been actively developing their old alliances with great powers such as France and Britain. The recent arms deal with France should be seen in that light. However, the Saudis are also working on building new ties with Russia. The United States will be the main ally for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for the foreseeable future, but Washington now requires them to do more to protect themselves.

In light of those two points, Russia’s intervention can have some benefit. The GCC cannot fill the power vacuum left by the United States, at least not in the medium term. Having a great power such as Russia in the region can help with that.

This is conditioned on the GCC - particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - having stronger relations with it. If Russian-GCC interests are interlinked, one can hope that Russia will play a role in checking Iran’s expansionist ambitions.

We should continue to reject Assad, but also hope the Russian presence succeeds in bringing Syria peace

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Already we have seen the impact of this on some of the smaller GCC countries. Qatar is moving closer toward Iran in its bid to enhance its security. With the U.S. role diminishing, Qatar had two options: fully bandwagon with the GCC and especially Saudi Arabia, or have a larger regional power as its ally. It opted – as expected - for the second, signing a security agreement with Iran. The Qatari move is of more concern for the GCC than Russia’s intervention in Syria.

Peace prospects

The intervention can expedite the Syrian peace process. The warring parties all agree that there is no military solution to the conflict, but the stalemate had encouraged the Syrian opposition to insist on a full victory. Russia’s intervention has made clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not fall. Letting go of that hope could be a recipe for peace.

Most importantly, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups have been growing relatively unchecked. There was hope that their growth would push Assad to breaking point. Now that his defeat is off the table, we may see a more serious campaign to purge Syria from such barbarous groups.

The GCC, while not happy with Russia’s intervention, needs it to succeed. Failure will mean the mushrooming of ISIS, and the first targets will be us. We should continue to reject Assad, but also hope the Russian presence succeeds in bringing Syria peace.

Moreover, we should cooperate with Moscow in its fight against terrorism because we are most at stake. Most importantly we must ensure that Russia plays a balancing role in the region, rather than supporting one power – namely Iran – at the expense of others.

Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

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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