Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted saying during the Munich conference that ground intervention in Syria could result in a third world war. Despite the importance of what has been said, no one paid attention to his words because this statement seemed to be unrealistic, another fabrication from Iranian media that Moscow has consistently reiterated.
The World War theory is not convincing; it is a media exaggeration that strategists do not take seriously. If such a confrontation were to happen, it would have been prompted by the Russian occupation of Crimea, however it was enough for the West to release a few statements of condemnation. A new World War is not in the calculations of major powers; Syria is merely a side battle for the West and an arena for the Russians to flex their muscles.
Syrian rebels have been able to defeat the Iranians who have clearly failed for two years in their war in Syria, and they can do the same with the Russians later on if the opposition receives the arms it needs to counter the Russian air force. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have led the war in Syria for two years with logistical and military support from Russia, financial support and militias from Iraq and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Still, they weren’t able to advance much, mainly in the capital Damascus, where suburbs such as al-Ghouta remained under rebel control. The Iranians have even failed to break the siege imposed on the villages of Nibl and Zahra in Aleppo, despite the promises and propaganda that accompanied the battles. Two years later, the siege was lifted, a few days after Russia's interference in the war.
There will neither be a new world war nor a direct military clash between Russia and the West and I don’t think there will be a confrontation with regional forces like Turkey, especially that both parties have already tested the limits of tension between them following Turkey’s downing of the Russian fighter jet. Due to Russian military interference and the persistent attempt to impose the Iranian solution on the Syrian people, we should expect the battles to continue with greater support to the opposition and increased Russian involvement.
Russians seeing red
It’s clear that the Russians are angered by the support the opposition is receiving and the Saudi statements regarding their intervention. This is because the aim of the huge military campaign supporting the opposition is to impose a new status quo, like for example, taking over all of Aleppo, and thus imposing a political solution at Geneva. If they fail in the short term, the Russians would have destroyed Syria without any political gain, which is the main objective of their involvement.
With the intensifying challenges, the Russians can achieve a political “half-victory” if they accept the power sharing solution; the opposition and the Syrian regime working together without AssadAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Regional and international stances are important for the situation in Syria; it’s not only Russian and Iranian positions that matter. Most probably, the West won’t interfere directly in the war there, but Turkey or the Gulf states may have to intervene or increase their support to the Syrian opposition. The West would then be obliged to support the opposition as well, due to the exacerbation of the crisis by the millions of refugees and the rising threat of terrorism.
Today, the Russians are furious about any interference under any title whatsoever, including support for the opposition that suffered major setbacks as a result of Russian intervention.
With the intensifying challenges, the Russians can achieve a political “half-victory” if they accept the power sharing solution; the opposition and the Syrian regime working together without Assad. The Syrian opposition that had rejected this suggestion is now no longer in a military position that allows it to reject all options. Key countries like Turkey and the Gulf, have already expressed their acceptance of this political solution. However, the opposition allies will need to support it on the ground in order to push this political solution forward, because military power is the most important tool in the negotiations. This was also expressed by Russian FM Sergei Lavrov, when he told Moskovsky newspaper a few days ago that betting on a military solution has become a reality.
Turkey is the key player on the other side. There is no doubt that its reluctance to intervene further has placed it in hot water. The Russians and Iranians are now actively bolstering a Kurdish Front that is hostile to Turkey, separating between them and Syria. This would mean marginalizing the role of Turkey and its influence in Syria on one hand, and threatening the security of Turkey on the other. I do not think that the Turks would allow for this dangerous development to progress and they will have no choice but to increase their support for the opposition and activate the role of the refugees to form an alternative Liberation Army. Things might not get up to this point of complexity if the Russians and the Iranians become aware of the seriousness of the challenges against them; they will find that it is in their favor to accept the political solution that is now put forward.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 13, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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