What if Russian body bags start turning up in Moscow?

Russia’s intervention in Syria has changed the stalemate preferred by all parties to the crisis.

Yet it is unlikely that this intervention, seen by many as a smart coup by Moscow against Western and Arab countries opposed to the Syrian regime, will produce anything conducive to a political settlement. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s words after meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow also indicate that nothing has changed or will change.

Anti-Assad strategists may see no harm in seeing a few downed Russian warplanes to send a message to Moscow that a settlement means compromise, and that everyone is likely to lose a bit in order to save what is left of Syria and its people.

Russia’s efforts seem to be focused on propping up Assad for the short term, though this is disguised as a push to saving the Syrian state. Moscow must factor in that for its intervention to be fruitful, it must one day be seen as a potential neutral broker capable of bringing together a mosaic of interests to the negotiating table. The air campaign so far demonstrates that Russia is singling out opposition-held areas, not strongholds of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Moscow’s hasty deployment has blocked various plans to establish no-fly zones in northern and southern Syria. It has also done away with establishing safe havens to protect Syrians mainly from regime barrel bombs and ISIS, and to stem the flow of refugees. The clear imbalance created by Moscow’s deployment is unlikely to be contained unless weapons capable of clipping Russian wings are given to the opposition.

Military assistance

Countries such as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are likely to find themselves increasingly pressured if Moscow manages to bolster pro-Assad forces to the extent that its starts to turn the tide in opposition-held areas. So far, however, nearly a month of continued Russian airstrikes and air cover for pro-Assad forces have failed to present a clear winning momentum in the fight against ISIS or the many armed opposition groups.

Through the downing of a few Russian warplanes with surface-to-air missiles, the Kremlin would be sent a clear message that the Middle East is not Georgia or Ukraine

Mohamed Chebarro

The first waves of attacks were halted after heavy casualties suffered by pro-regime forces, seemingly due to anti-tank guided missiles. The second in command of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards was killed, as were leaders of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. These successes indicate that Syrian rebel groups received detailed intelligence and maybe coordinates that allowed them to inflict heavy casualties.

Until Putin is persuaded that a genuine political settlement should take precedence over bombing, anti-aircraft weapons should be provided to opposition groups in Syria. They must be deployed in a controlled manner, and used to alert Assad that his civilian-killing air force is redundant, and to show Russia that its propping up of the regime against all odds is untenable and cannot ensure Moscow’s long-term interests in the Middle East.

Duplicity

The duplicity of supporting Assad and singing from the hymn books of Iran and Israel to promote the establishment of religious entities will backfire, even if it is camouflaged as an anti-terror campaign.

Moscow must not fool anyone that it is working hard to negotiate a settlement that includes forces it has always labelled as terrorists, as their bases are prime targets for Russian airstrikes. Moscow cannot assume one day the role of executioner, and the second that of peacemaker.

Through the downing of a few Russian warplanes with surface-to-air missiles, the Kremlin would be sent a clear message that the Middle East is not Georgia or Ukraine, as the stakes in Syria are higher for religious, ethnic and demographic reasons.

I am not an advocate of war, but leaving Syria and its people to their fate to face Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah, Iraqi, and now reportedly Cuban troops will only give Assad and his cronies, and their tactical allies ISIS, a new lease of life, and the region and beyond more destruction and refugees.

The conflict is at a crossroad, and Russia’s intervention is a disaster that could spin out of control regionally and beyond. U.S. President Barack Obama seems to have chosen the wrong conflict to hang up his gloves.

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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.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
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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