Russia's engagement in Syria is escalating

Bashar Al Assad is a puppet in the hands of Moscow, says Khairallah Khairallah. AFP
Bashar Al Assad is a puppet in the hands of Moscow, says Khairallah Khairallah. AFP

The tensions between the United States and Russia over the war in Syria caught the attention of Arabic-language commentators in the past few days. This week in the pan-Arab London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, the Syrian columnist Fayez Sarah noted Russia’s growing preoccupation with the Syrian conflict and said that it had become a key issue for the Kremlin.

“When the Syrian revolution broke out in the beginning of 2011, Moscow almost stayed on the sidelines. There were barely 40 Russian soldiers in Syria based in Tartus,” the writer said.

He said the Russian embassy in Damascus had no greater presence than the embassies of other great powers, and its activities did not raise any doubts, concerns or fears among the Syrians who were demonstrating against Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

“On the contrary, the Syrian opposition saw in the embassy a party capable of helping to curb the regime’s practices and to push towards an acceptable settlement for the Syrian conflict.”

Sarah said there had been tremendous change in the role of Russia in the past six years as it turned into a huge military presence in Syria. There were now at least 4,000 soldiers, plus security and technical experts and the Russian marines.

The writer went on to say that Russia was playing a dual role. On one hand, it was managing its allies – Iran and the regime forces – acting as their spokesperson and steering and backing their operations on the ground.

On the other hand, it was “rushing to take its part alongside the US in the international efforts to settle the Syrian conflict and its repercussions”.

He concluded that Russia was making every effort to keep the Assad regime in power and to “re-market it” to the international community as a legitimate authority that was fighting terrorism.

Writing in the pan-Arab London daily Al Arab, the Lebanese columnist Khairallah Khairallah said that Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union had played only one role: taking Syria and its people from one catastrophe to another.

He said the recent ceasefire deal with the US was “nothing more than an extension to the path that Moscow has always taken”. The writer said that the Kremlin was sending a simple message to Washington: that Syria is a Russian territory.

“Bashar Al Assad is just a puppet in the hands of Moscow and the entire Syrian opposition is nothing but a group of terrorists. The US need only accept this fact which implies the creation of a ‘useful Syria’ affiliated with Iran,” Khairallah opined.

But, the writer noted, instead of carrying his threats into execution by attacking the regime forces as a punishment for resorting to chemical weapons, US president Barack Obama has accepted all the conditions imposed by his Russian counterpart.

“Mr Obama has forgotten that he has drawn a ‘red line’ for Bashar Al Assad and that he said the Syrian president must leave.”

Khairallah concluded that Russian president Vladimir Putin had found in the US an administration that had turned its back on human rights and self-determination.

Nothing would now deter Mr Putin from pursuing in Syria “a long-standing policy founded on hitting the vital forces and diversely rich community, spreading poverty and encouraging oppressive regimes”.

* Translated by Jennifer Attieh

Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM


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