U.S. challenges Russia on the Syrian chessboard

After three years of bloody war in Syria, Washington closed the Syrian Embassy... why now?

Maria Dubovikova
Maria Dubovikova
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After three years of bloody war in Syria, Washington closed the Syrian embassy, as Assad’s regime “has no legitimacy” and Washington considers the Syrian embassy in the U.S. an insult. The U.S. then freezes the diplomatic relations with Syria. This breaking news hits the headlines of the world’s news agencies. But is this news really breaking, or just long overdue?

The Syrian conflict, as it was mentioned, started three years ago and the death toll already amounts to more than 140,000 people, while some argue that the real number remains unknown. We could endlessly discuss who is to blame for this bloodshed as there is not “right” answer, a common trend of all civil wars.

However, the current state of play is that the Syrian opposition is absolutely fragmented; that Islamists and jihadists from abroad fight on the side of the Free Syrian Army, that Syrian territory has been completely invaded by numerous brigades of the al-Qaeda backed terrorist groups that represent a threat to regional and world stability. In this case, other questions over the conflict should be raised - not who is to blame, but how to stop it.

The decision to freeze diplomatic ties comes after the decision by Syrian parliament to hold presidential elections in the areas under government control this summer; President Bashar al-Assad is likely to be one of the several candidates to run. Earlier, the U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said that Syrian elections now would not contribute to peace efforts, as the opposition would not be interested in pursuing further peace talks with the government. But the U.S. decision to sever diplomatic ties cannot be explained solely by the erroneous decision of the Syrian government, the story is far more complicated.

The Ukrainian case pushes the U.S. to defeat the Russian Federation in other geopolitical fields

Maria Dubovikova

The success of the Geneva-II talks, that took place in January, resides only in the fact that they took place and were not interrupted during the supposed period. They have not yielded any tangible results, and in this sense it is still a failure. However, the principles of the 2012 Geneva communiqué stay the only possible and adequate way to settle the conflict. Nevertheless, some actors on the world stage are not so satisfied with this situation and demonstrated numerous times their readiness to act divergently, breaking the agreements. Here is when the matter comes to the United States. The Russian Federation, that stays strong on the principles of the Geneva communiqué as the basis of the conflict regulation, criticized the U.S. for taking steps that violate the principles. The “hawks” have already demonstrated their lack of interest in such apparently peaceful initiatives, backed by other great powers. This refers especially to those who are not in their camp – in other words, those whose interests do not match.

Critical month

March is a critical month for Syria as the deadline for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal is approaching (it is set for April). Chemical weapons in Syria seemed the only reason that restrained the U.S. from taking more militant steps on the field.

After the Geneva-II, my exchange of views with colleagues has shown that the expert circles are waiting for the development of the coercive scenario to be realized by the U.S. right after the last shipments of chemical weapons leave the Syrian shores.

Moreover, the elections for Congress will take place in the U.S., and democrats need to gain scores in the eyes of their electorate. What can be better for these goals than a brutal demonstration of American force and power?

The partial failure of the Geneva-II talks, home affairs agenda and the Syrian decision to hold the presidential elections are pushing the U.S. towards more active steps, whatever the world community may think about them.

Moreover, the Ukrainian case pushes the U.S. to defeat the Russian Federation in other geopolitical fields. Despite the tough game and threats, the U.S. looses the game over Ukraine, as Moscow has widely demonstrated its power and will to defend its interests. Also, it was revealed that both Europe and the U.S. have little resources to influence or isolate Russia. Furthermore, last year was a positive one for Russian diplomacy, especially in Syria. So, the U.S. needs revenge.

The greatest problem of Syria is not the jihadists or terrorists, neither is it the regime of Bashar al-Assad, nor is it the fragmented opposition. The greatest problem of Syria is that it has become the geopolitical battlefield of two major great powers and their allies with opposite points of view on the conflict. As a result, the crisis in Syria becomes the hostage of U.S. domestic affairs and the international context and has been complicated by the Ukrainian case. All in all - it is a matter of principle for the U.S. to regain its position and to show its might due to its perceived failure in Ukraine. How brutal the response and policy of the United States towards Syria will be – time is yet to show. Yet, a Libyan-type scenario, even without approval from the U.N. Security Council, does not seem very unlikely in the current circumstances.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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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