Syria: Russia’s Success, the West’s Failure

"It is fair to say that Russia’s policies are succeeding" in Syria

From François Heisbourg, New York Times:  More than two years after the revolt broke out against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it is fair to say that Russia’s policies are succeeding, whereas the West’s analysis and actions are failing.

Thanks in large part to Russia’s military, political and diplomatic support, the Syrian dictator’s regime has not fallen and his repression continues relentlessly, unimpeded by a paralyzed U.N. Security Council. The West has been unable to shape events on the ground, with its “red lines” apparently fading into insignificance.

But Russia’s success to date, while significant, will be short-lived. President Vladimir Putin has made his point, and it is now in Russia’s own interest to cooperate with the West and help foster an end to the bloodshed in Syria. . . .

Russia’s success is typical of the country’s history as a great power during the last two centuries: It is used to taking calculated risks, even against apparently long odds, and its approach tends to operate in a zero sum perspective — my gain is your loss. But this approach also forces Russia to cope with the immensely difficult consequences.

Russia has been present in Syria as a major provider of defense and political support for half a century, building up habits of cooperation and ties at all levels of society, perhaps best symbolized by the intermarriage of thousands of Russian-Syrian couples. . . .

Russia has been largely — maybe mainly — driven by the wish to punish the Western powers for having abused, in its eyes, the Security Council’s authority to overthrow Qaddafi. . . .

Russia will find it no less easy than the West to deal with the local and regional consequences of the Syrian civil war. Assad is no longer holding on as the chief of a functioning state but as a warlord who is more powerful than others in a splintering Syria. Neighboring Jordan is facing an existential threat, and a dysfunctional Iraq appears to be descending anew into civil war. The ultimate Russian interest is presumably not to become the collateral victim of spiraling jihadist violence. 

François Heisbourg is special adviser at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, a Paris-based think tank.  (graphic: Gorka Sampedro/New York Times)

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