28th September at the United Nations saw a showdown between Obama and Putin over the crisis in the Middle East, and the Islamic State.
“We must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, a return to the pre-war status quo,” stated Obama. Putin, however, believes Assad is Syria’s only hope. Unfortunately, they may be both right.
Dr Aida Abzhaparova, joint programme leader of the Politics and Internationals Relations department at UWE, believes that “Russia wants to show to the world that it’s an important player. However, it’s [also] attempting to shift attention away from the unresolved Ukrainian situation.”
Aida is not optimistic about what the future holds – “Russian military involvement in Syria further destabilises a very fragile situation. All other post-Soviet states, including Ukraine, and in particular states of Central Asia and Caucasus watch the situation very closely and with great worry’.
The American led coalition has been unsuccessfully in targeting the IS for a year now; and the crisis in Syria has gone beyond critical. With Russian airstrikes entering their third week, Russia is not only targeting the IS strongholds, but also so-called moderate anti-Assad rebel groups within Syria, such as Tajamu Alezzah.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to accompany the airstrikes with a ground offensive against the rebels; Russian and Iranian ally, Hezbollah of Lebanon, is also increasing their presence in Syria as they have always supported Assad in the civil war.
Syrian regime helped create the environment for IS to flourish, by using chemical weapons and indiscriminate air bombing campaign against the civilian population. Russia’s actions of propping up Assad will only prologue the crisis.
However, until the threat of IS has been removed, Assad has to remain. Syria is fragile, the removal of Assad without an adequate long term state rebuilding plan in place will allow the IS to gain control of Syria, pulling the plug in the Middle East.
Some critics believe that America needs to withdraw completely from the region, allowing the UN to strengthen democratic movements, which should usher in a peaceful transition. Whilst it may work for dealing with the civil war tearing Syria apart, it will not assist against the IS.
Syrian instability is overflowing into Europe, and not only due to current refugee crisis. Europe finds itself caught in the middle of America and Russia, with the crisis in Middle East and Russian ambitions on its doorstep.
Assad’s fall would bring an end to a decades-old alliance, threatening Russia’s position in the Middle East. Already the Russian economy is in serious decline, due to falling oil prices and Western economic sanctions.
However, Germany’s vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel indicated that EU sanctions against Russia would have to be lifted for diplomacy to progress over Syria. At an address in Berlin, Gabriel said Berlin “needs cooperation with Russia […] we cannot keep the economic sanctions from one side and trying to cooperate on the other side.”
Russia’s involvement in Syria is to remind that it’s a major world power and a counterweight to western involvement in Syria. Yet while Putin has managed to hold its own in Ukraine, the Syrian involvement is far riskier.
It appears Europe is caught between a rock and a hard place, and every route ahead has no immediate positive outcome for the Syrian people regardless of Russia’s involvement.
By Wendy Price