In August 2013, Assad used chemical weapons on rebel held areas on the outskirts of Damascus, killing hundreds of his own people. To date, Bashar Assad has caused over a quarter of a million Syrian deaths. His regime in April of 2015 controlled little over 20 percent of Syrian territory. The Kurds controlled the north, ISIS controlled the east, and the rebel’s factions were pushing west towards the Mediterranean Sea. Assad has devoted more resources to battle the more immediate threat to the north, the Syrian rebels, a moderate opposition to Syria and Russia.
There have been many instances in the past five years when it looked like Assad would fall, but he has proved himself resilient at every turn. At times Assad looked to be on his last leg. United States has called for Assad’s removal from office many times and probably backed many rebel groups by supplying antitank missiles to rebel factions against Russian built Soviet tanks. Russia came to the aid of Bashar Assad to capitalize on America’s withdrawal from a position of strength in the region, as well as prop up the Syrian regime.
A year ago Russia began to intervene in Syria to support the Syrian government which looked to be on its last survival path. Indeed, Russia came to the support of Assad to ensure it maintained its own position in Syria. Russia has strengthened the Syrian administration enough so that the only solution going forward is a stalemate that will have to be solved through continuous negotiation. This allows President Vladimir Putin to continue Russia’s presence in Syria and still be the saviour for the Syrian people.
Russia’s strategy in Syria is to make the conflict binary by giving Syrians only two choices: Assad or ISIS and to replace the United States as the dominant power in the Middle East by destroying the powerful extremist terrorist. Moscow’s intent from the beginning was to retain its influence in Syria, with or without Assad.
As we look at where Russian fighters have attacked around the city of Aleppo, it indicates that Russia has gone less after the ISIS and more against the anti-Assad rebels. There are fewer Russian missiles being launched against ISIS strong hold locations or al Qaeda affiliated targets. Russia has naval bases on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, these bases would be in jeopardy if they fell to the rebels. Russia has received confirmation from the Syrian government to continue its military presence In Syria and special privilege to exterminate the rebels, which is being done.
Presently Russia is replacing United States in Syria as the representative of the Middle East. Whether or not Putin decides to stay in the Middle East, this is another matter; it seems that American presence no longer dominates the area as in the past. In the end, Russia isn’t too disturbed by how the immigration crisis weaken Europe.
As it stands now, Europe is not united enough, and does not have enough political will to confront Russia in Syria. Russia is simply acting to preserve its ally-Syria in the Middle East. Europe is barely able to form a united front against Russia, the world has witnessed the oppression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
While the fight against ISIS is of prime importance, Russia should remain the number one threat because Putin possesses enormous offensive military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional.