Russia cannot afford to fail in Syria. The country put its entire reputation there. Failure means the collapse of Vladimir Putin’s major vengeance project, which he submitted to the Kremlin, and which he initially hid under his smile, awaiting the appropriate timing for execution.
Taking revenge on the forces that drove the Soviet Union into history museums… On the world of the single superpower… On NATO, for deploying its pawns near the Russian Federation borders… On colorful revolutions, the civil society and all forms of soft power, which does not need permission to cross the borders…
Russia cannot afford defeat on the Syrian arena. It is about its status, the prestige of its army, its diplomatic capacity and its image as a trustworthy ally which can be relied on in times of adversity. Failure means the collapse of the dream of restoring the status and forcing the United States to deal rightfully with the countries that emerged wounded from the Soviet rubble.
Success in Syria means for Russia to impose a political solution according to its perception. This issue is neither easy nor simple. The more Moscow fails to impose a solution that suits it, the more it wants to go further in search of a victory that will resolve the battle on the ground. A full resolution collides with many difficulties, in addition to being expensive.
Moscow’s concerns mounted over the past few months, as Washington seemed to abandon the policy of allegiance to the Russian solution and to firmly grip the papers of the Syrian arena.
This may explain Russia’s position during the strenuous negotiations that preceded the recent Security Council resolution on Syria. Moscow feels that time, which was running in its favor in the past, is now turning against it.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s message was honest. He did not rule out repeating the scenario of Aleppo in eastern Ghouta. He is putting the forces opposing the Syrian regime before a single option: surrender and go to Sochi.
Moscow’s concerns mounted over the past few months, as Washington seemed to abandon the policy of allegiance to the Russian solution and to firmly grip the papers of the Syrian arenaGhassan Charbel
This does not mean that Russia has not made great gains across the Syrian arena. There are those who believe that the Russian cook used Syrian fire to impose fundamental changes on the international scene. The chapters of the Syrian tragedy showed that the world of the sole superpower did not last long.
Russia has executed its threat that it will not allow the repetition of scenes similar to those that led to the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime and later that of Muammar Gaddafi. It has also fulfilled its threat that it will not allow the West to benefit from deliberate confusion in Security Council resolutions in order to use force against a regime that is regarded as an enemy, as happened in Libya.
At the beginning of the bloody chapters in Syria, Putin received an Arab visitor. He told him that many people mistakenly believed that Russia was defending a man or a family in Syria. He also said a lengthy stay in power would lead to the accumulation of errors.
But Putin stressed that the question of who governs Syria must be decided by the Syrian people themselves, and not by foreign countries through force or soft power. Putin has also executed his threats in this area.
Putin showed during the crisis that he was not exposed to any serious pressure from the inside. Before he went abroad to carry out his program, he secured the wisest control internally. He restored the Red Army, its spirit and weapons. He tightened his grip on the business world and the media. He has no public opinion to worry about. His position is quite different from that of Western leaders.
Tragic images coming from Syria did not embarrass him. His media is quick to portray the devastated hospitals as a victim of terrorists, even if they were destroyed by Russian or Syrian missiles.
The red line
Putin has invested to the fullest extent in America’s image after the famous story of the red line. Obama’s position was the beginning of the decline of the US role in Syria. Today, Moscow is betting on a battle that seems imminent. It is clear that Iran is increasing its pressure on Haider al-Abadi to demand full American withdrawal from Iraq. The US departure from there will also accelerate its exit from Syria, which is initially associated with its presence in Iraq to fight ISIS.
Putin also succeeded in highlighting the limited role of NATO. There is no desire for NATO to engage in the Syrian fire. Turkey has the second largest army in the Alliance. Its political leadership is co-sponsoring the Sochi process. The Turkish army is fighting in Afrin after receiving a green light from Russia and Turkey’s Atlantic side will protect its atmosphere through missiles coming from the Russian arsenal.
Putin has also exhausted the Security Council. His representative there holds the veto sword to stop any decision that could hinder the Russian project in Syria. The Russian delegate allows the adoption of a resolution only after depleting its content and including statements that preserve the Russian and Syrian forces’ right to use military force “against the terrorists.”
There is no doubt that terrorists are still present on the Syrian territory; but Russia, which is seeking to strike those groups, is trying at the same time to bend the rest of the Syrian opposition and to force it to walk towards the Russian solution, which is so far committed to the Iranian project in Syria, while understanding Israel’s concerns over its “interests”.
A senior diplomat goes even further. He believes that what is happening in Syria is greater than the country itself; and that the course of the lingering tragedy carries with it the formation of a new international order that restores the prominent place of power in international relations and prevails stability over change, democracy, human rights and the civil society’s aspirations.
The diplomat notes the decline of the role of the United Nations system, the Western leadership of the world, the role of popular pressure groups and the impact of demonstrations and information. He believes that Syria is the starting point for a new regional order. The tragedy, as seen by the diplomat, is that these features are painted with the blood of Syrian civilians. New features are written in red Syrian ink.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan’s Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.