Syrians pay the price for Putin’s grand delusions

What the Arabic media is saying about Russia’s role in Syria

A ceasefire is unlikely to be imposed in Syria in the foreseeable future – especially not when Russia does not intend to cease its bombing raids in Aleppo and neighbouring areas, wrote the columnist Khairallah Khairallah in the Qatari daily Al Arab.

Russia is using ISIL as a convenient pretext to avoid admitting that it is actually an essential part in the war against the Syrian people, he wrote. But what is Russia looking to gain from its military campaign in Syria?

“With every day that goes by it becomes clearer that the purpose of the Russian campaign in Syria, which started last September, is simply to contribute to the plight of the Syrian people and nothing else,” he noted.

As a direct outcome of the Russian campaign, moderate opposition forces have pulled back on several fronts, mainly in Aleppo. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been displaced and rebels’ munitions resupply lines have been interrupted.

This is all happening at a time when there are no clear indications about Turkey’s ability to offer help to Syrians, especially given that Russia has threatened to play the Kurdish card should Turkey decide to butt heads with it in Syria.

Meanwhile, Iran hasn’t wasted time mobilising forces along the Turkish border to thwart any attempts by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards establishing a safe zone in Syrian territory for citizens fleeing the mayhem.

Russian president Valdimir Putin is used to this kind of confrontational policy, especially because he has never found anyone to deter him. He built his entire political career on the premise that there is no one standing in his way.

His foray into Ukraine revealed to him that Europeans don’t want confrontation of any kind and that the Obama administration is all talk and no action.

The fact that he was able to get away with his assault on Ukraine undeterred encouraged him to venture into Syria, where he holds trump cards that give him the upper hand in his talks with the West.

“The Russian president’s main card is Bashar Al Assad’s head. The trick is to see who would be willing to pay the asking price for it,” noted Khairallah.

It is unlikely that Putin would be able to play the Assad card. None of the major players is willing to foot the bill for what Russia is demanding in exchange for getting rid of the Assad regime once and for all. They aren’t prepared to lift the sanctions and give Moscow free rein in Ukraine.

Soon enough, the fragile Russian economy will force Putin to rethink his asking price for Mr Al Assad’s head and to realise that the only option available to him is to seriously negotiate over it.

“Soon, the Russian president, along with Iran, will see that they have no choice but to negotiate with Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries to find a way to raise oil and gas prices,” he said. Indeed, the day of Mr Putin’s awakening is looming. In the meantime, ordinary Syrians continue to pay the price for Mr Putin’s fantasies of grandeur, he added.

Translated by Racha Makarem

RMakarem@thenational.ae