Russia, Syria and the Western third wheel

The Syrian tragedy of the civil war is standing in the shadows of ISIS

Maria Dubovikova

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The Syrian tragedy of the civil war is standing in the shadows of ISIS. Although it is part of the puzzle, it should be treated separately to ISIS to some extent. The main problem is that the issue is internal, even though some players are outside Syria’s borders.

Russia, which has both hands tied behind its back as Damascus and different opposition forces try to take advantage of its levers of influence, is trying to push the situation from military confrontation to political dialogue.

Actually, it seems that Russia is on the side of Damascus as it has been on its side during the conflict and has also maintained stable contacts with the moderate opposition, leaders and representatives.

Russia is positioning itself as a key player seeking to settle the Syrian conflict

Maria Dubovikova

Russia predicts that the conflict settlement will come via inclusive intra-Syrian dialogue including all the warning parties (except extremists, of course). The process should go on without preconditions and outside interference. In light of this, Russia is very alarmed by the U.S. maneuvers in the region, the U.S. strikes on Syrian territories with no approval and their way of fighting with the ISIS.

Pompous Geneva-type conferences

It is clear enough that there won’t be pompous Geneva-type conferences any more, as they appeared to be totally ineffective. Both Geneva meetings failed to end up with any solid agreement. However, it should be admitted, the principles (of July , 2014) elaborated upon during the Geneva I meeting are the key foundation for conflict settlement.

The Syrian foreign minister’s negotiations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov that took place in Sochi on the November 26 were held behind the closed doors. Afterwards, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs and his Syrian counterpart, in their joint statement, slightly lifted the veil of secrecy regarding the meeting. The key agreement achieved by the parties is to support the U.N. secretary-general's Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura and his proposal to suspend fighting in the northern city of Aleppo. Furthermore, According to Lavrov, they discussed the current situation in Syria, the dramatically aggravated terrorist threat and the scant Western policy on the matter. He further stressed that the so-called anti-terrorist operation conducted by the United States and its allies will have limited results. Bilateral ties were discussed as well as humanitarian cooperation. Here we can call to mind the recent Walid Muallem interview, where he said that Damascus was asking for once promised S-300 weaponry fearing U.S. air strikes. Was this question raised during the negotiations? What was the Russia’s answer? All of this stays a secret. But even if Syria’s side raised the question, it is extremely unlikely that Russia answered positively. First of all, the delivery of S-300 weaponry will completely ruin all the possibilities of settling the conflict. Russia, which received one delegation after another both governmental and opposition representatives, obviously aspires to lead the peace process in Syria and become the key mediator. Secondly, the delivery would have dramatic consequences in a regional and global framework, as on a regional level it will bring to a strong power misbalance and on the global level it would deepen Russia’s conflict with the West, which is not what Russia wants.

A key player

Russia is positioning itself as a key player seeking to settle the Syrian conflict, while others are busy trying to counter ISIS and topple Assad in Damascus. Moscow, Damascus and representatives of the Syrian opposition understand that the process launched by Moscow will take time to bear fruit.

Observing visit after visit by Syrian opposition delegations to Russia, and taking into account its sustainably strong ties with Damascus, it seems Russia has all the chances to become a truly decisive player. However, there is a huge problem that can demolish all the attempts. The problem with these high-level initiatives to regulate the situation resides in the fact that frequently the opposition groups often have a vague and unstable electorate in the areas they control. The moderate opposition now is too weakened by the years of war and the growth of the ISIS. Many ex-moderates have radicalized and joined ISIS fighters and the opposition is very fragmented.

In the current circumstances, the best decision would be, first of all, to fight the ISIS by joining all the possible forces, overcoming discords between the parties and then using political means to end the war. Trying to settle two problems at one time means risking resolving none of them, even in the mid-term perspective.


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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