Thursday, October 1, 2015

What Is The Current Strategy of Russia in Syria? Do You Still Think Putin is Simply A Tactician?

Briefly: This article has been written during a 30 min break, without any edit & references. Don't blame me in this matter, due to the fact that is a short note, not an academic paper or an article for publishing.

Russia has begun its direct military intervention in Syria since Wednesday. This event has shocked many and at the same time has created a hot debate among many politicians, scholars as well as journalists around the world. Some simply claim that Assad's Regime was on the verge of collapse; as such Putin would try to save the Syrian Regime by this move. Some others claim that Putin is not a strategist; he is a tactician and try to divert the mind of public opinion from current tension in Ukraine toward Syria by this move. Some like Richard Haass, the current President of Council on Foreign Relations claims that in the war against ISIS, Obama should have worked with Russia and Iran some time ago. In addition to these different analyses, there are some, who are screaming that Putin's military intervention in Syria would be finally beneficial for ISIS, due to the fact that Russian fighter jets would also bomb the Free Syrian Army and this event would create a fertile ground for ISIS, Al-Nusra Front and other Islamic radical groups within Syria. Each of these views to some extent touches some true part of the story, but the combination of all of them does not explore the final goal of Russia in this adventurous operation.

In my opinion some views such as 1- Putin wants to save Assad's regime, or 2- Russian military jets would bomb the Syrian oppositions in addition to ISIS positions and alike are some Chrystal Clear realities and to some extent shallow analyses that do not need any further explanation. My aim in this short note is to identify Putin's final goal in this military intervention. By identifying this point, then, i would examine the reliability of Richard Haass's idea and those, who like him believe that Obama should have cooperated with Russia and Iran in war against ISIS long time ago. In doing so, i would try to put my feet in the shoes of Putin and look at the whole event not only within Syria but also in some other geographical areas that Russia has some type of conflict with the West (NATO) e.g. Ukraine.

From this point of view: What would /might Putin see?
Putin would / Might probably see that:
1- Influx of refugees towards the EU and the statements of various UN and western politicians that some large number of refugees (1 to 1/5 million) will enter the EU in the next coming months. Germany alone says that it would shelter nearly 800,000 refugees. ( Sudden influx of nearly 500,000 refugees after 4/5 years tension in Syria along with these statements might have created an alarming image for Putin that it seems something might happen in Syria somewhere in the near future that all of a sudden a country like Germany, for example, has announced that it would take this large number of refugees).

2- Recent Military involvement of Turkey in the conflict. Turkey is one of those countries that no matter how, would like to get rid of Assad's regime by all means. Regarding the Syrian conflict, the Turkish policy makers have, so far, proposed many strange & to some extent,  adventurous ideas such as creating no-fly zone or creating a safe haven in the northern part of Syria. In addition, there are many rumors that Turkish authority has been supporting ISIS, Al-Nusra front and some other Islamic Radical groups within both Syria and Iraq. Analyzing the credibility and reliability of these rumors and the notion that Turkey used this event for militarily crushing the PKK and other Kurdish opposition groups by this military intervention are beyond the scope of this short note. The important issue for Putin is the fact that after nearly 4/5 years, Turkey has militarily involved in the Syrian conflict (This event would probably have created an alarming image for Putin that the West might perform a direct military intervention against Assad's Regime somewhere in the near future).

3- Recent Military involvement of  UK and France against ISIS facilities within Syria ( This event would have increased the probability of a possible western military intervention against Assad's Regime in the mindset of Putin).          

4- The other overt, covert and clandestine military intervention of the US-led coalition including supporting and arming the Syrian rebels should be added to all mentioned above.

5- But this is not the whole story. Simply, because there is another ongoing conflict between Russia and the West, which Putin should carefully take care of that as well and that is Ukraine. Although, Ukraine and Syria are far away from each other, but from Geo-strategical and economic point of view, both of them are highly important for Russia and Putin. Any weakness in one of these two battlefields is a huge lost for Russia and to some extent would undermine the power of Russia in another battlefield. As such, Putin would do his best by all means to keep the western countries away from these two countries and he is ready to pay every price in this matter, as the experience of last two years has clearly shown. Some might wonder, what is the correlation between the tension in Ukraine and current sudden Russia's military involvement in the Syrian conflict? This is the story. At the present time, there is some type of truce between the Ukrainian authority and the rebels in eastern part of Ukraine. But NATO is not quiet. In addition, to military maneuver, arming, training, deploying forces to Baltic States and Ukraine, NATO has decided to deploy some Ballistic Missile Defense System to Poland and Romania. The idea that Poland become a host for such a defense system is not a new proposal and goes back to many years ago. The tricky point is here. In those years, the Western countries particularly the USA claimed that the deployment of this defense system in Poland is not because of Russia; it is mainly because of Iran and its secret nuclear activity & threat. Russia was strongly against such a move, event in those years. Now, the nuclear dispute with Iran has been solved, as Putin looks at this event. As such, the western countries would deploy the Ballistic Defense system to Poland and Romania in order to weaken Russian military power. As i follow the news, the western countries & NATO are trying to use some incentives and convince Putin in this matter. This idea has so far, been rejected by Russia and some Russian politicians have stated that in case of such a move by the West, Russia would deploy some of its Iskandar Ballistic Missiles close to the borders with the EU. (Deployment of such a defense system to Poland and Romania is a serious threat and would extremely weaken the Russian military power in the region; this is something that Putin understands).

6- Another news is that the USA has recently decided to deploy some nuclear bombs to Germany.

In short, Russia enjoyed the Syrian conflict in different terms in the last 4/5 years by using Buck Passing and Offshore Balancing strategies . But the combination of all issues mentioned above created an atmosphere of fear in Moscow and Tehran that the West along with some countries in the region might conduct a broad military intervention, something like Yemen, against Assad's Regime somewhere in the near future. Such a assumption 1- forced Russia to militarily be involved in the Syrian conflict; 2- forced Iran to openly and publicly deploy its ground forces into Syria; 3- forced China to deploy its military advisers into Syria.

What is the plan?
The group of Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq and China (From behind) have decided to put an end to the civil war in both Syria and Iraq. In this respect, every individual and group (e.g. ISIS, Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda, the Syrian rebel Army, etc) that fight against the political systems in Iraq and Syria would be identified as enemy and would be crushed by military forces of Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq and different other Shiite groups from the air or on the ground. In this battle, whether we like it or not, Russia and Iran have the upper hands based on many reasons including the recent nuclear deal & lifting the sanctions on Iran, which are equivalent to releasing a wounded tiger from the cage. In other words, from now on, the West should be prepared to deal with offensive activities of Iran across the Middle East and Africa. When it comes to the contemporary international laws and conventions also, whether we agree with it or not, the military presence of Russian and Iranian air & ground forces in both Syria and Iraq is legally legitimate, due to the fact that both political systems in these two countries have asked Iran and Russia to help them in war against ISIS and other terrorist groups. By direct military intervention in Syria, however, Putin would try to 1- defend and support Assad's Regime, 2- projecting the power and showing the teeth to the West with regards to both Syria and Ukraine and 3- to get some advantages from the West with regards to current tension in Ukraine as well. The current military intervention of Russia and Iran in Syria might have an extra benefit for Iran in addition to all explored above and that is facilitating extra opportunity for Hezbollah. From now on or somewhere in the future, the Israeli fighter jets might not easily be able to conduct airstrikes within Syrian territory in order to interrupt the transportation of weapons from Syria into Lebanon by Hezbollah. In other words, the current development would undoubtedly empower Hezbollah in various terms, not only within Syria but also Lebanon and to some extent in the region.  

What is the options of US-led coalition at the present time?
The US-led coalition, in my opinion has three options as follows:

1- Total retreat and withdrawal from both Syrian and Iraqi conflict, due to the fact that the final outcome of this conflict would be highly likely beneficial for Iran and Russia based on what briefly explored above.

2- Continuing with military operation in different terms in Syria and Iraq and simply offering assistance in various terms to Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq in order to defeat ISIS and other Islamic radical groups in the favor of Russia and Iran at the final stage.

3- Continuing military operation in Syria and Iraq parallel to Iran and Russia but without any coordination in order to hijack the power in both Syria and Iraq. Based on many reasons, this option would lead to a humiliating defeat, intensifying tension not only within Syria & Iraq but also in some other areas, huge collateral damages, further destruction of both countries of Syria & Iraq, high probability that the tension in Syria & Iraq would spillover to another neighboring countries and influx of more refugees towards the neighboring countries & consequently the EU.

What is the final goal of Putin following the end of civil war in Syria?
If Russia would not be able to stop NATO with regards to deployment of nuclear bombs to Germany or Ballistic Missile Defense System to Poland and Romania or with regards to current tension in Ukraine, Russia might probably deploy some of its Iskandar Ballistic Missile or more powerful weapons to Syria in order to undermine the security of the EU in retaliation.

Based on what explored above, whether some readers like it or not, agree with it or not, i should admit, that from IR & Peace And Conflict points of view,  Putin is not a tactician; Putin (and his advisers) is one of the best chess players in our contemporary international politics. Some might not like it, but after Crimea , this is the second time that Putin checkmates the West & NATO. (Never underestimate your enemy= 101- IR & Peace and Conflict Course).

Considering all briefly explored above, i pose a simple question for Mr. Richard Haass and those who think like him: Do you still believe that USA and Other western countries should cooperate with Iran and Russia in this battlefields or not?

Note: You had 4/5 years time along with some golden opportunities including the fact that Iran was under severe economic sanctions and political isolation, and did nothing. The game in Syria is over now in the benefit of Iran & Russia. Like always you are just busy with some reactionary moves and as a result couple steps behind Putin and the Islamic Regime. When it comes to Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Yemen and many other places, you don't have any reasonable & logical strategy and moreover, you are relying on Iranian Regim's lobbyists, as Iran expert, in your administration. As such, you will be beaten and surprised by Iran and Russia in various occasions.  

M. Sirani                       01.10.2015