Sign In / Up

Add contribution as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Comment as a guest

Your email will not be displayed publicly
Benefit of signing in/signing up to personalize comment

Login

Not a member Register   Forgot Password
or connect using
 

Email

 

Rudaw

Analysis

Does Russia have an exit strategy for the Middle East?

By Paul Iddon 26/12/2015
A Russian Air Force (VVS) pilot is seen in Syria Photo: AP
A Russian Air Force (VVS) pilot is seen in Syria Photo: AP
The Daily Beast recently ran a piece which suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “seducing” Iraq’s Sunni tribes, hoping to win them over as allies in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) by arming them and giving them other means of support (not unlike, as the article points out, the U.S. Awakening Councils, or Sahwa’s, used during the Iraq War to oust al-Qaeda from Anbar). By doing so Russia could win clout among the Sunnis (who are generally opposed to Russia’s regional allies in Damascus and Tehran) of the region at the expense of the United States.

Since Russia directly intervened in the Syrian war on the side of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad it has relied heavily on air power to give the Syrian military an edge over its opponents. However, as a recent piece in The Guardian by Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen rightfully points out, Russian air strikes are doing little to change things since there have been no meaningful Syrian ground offensives for them to coordinate with. This is due to the fact that the once 220,000-strong Syrian Army is worn out from years of desertions, fighting and general fatigue and is unable to mount the large offensives needed to retake large swaths of Syria. So we, in essence, have a situation whereby Russia is left trying to destroy various armed groups from the air, which is next to impossible.

Additionally, and more notably, the forces now fighting on Assad’s behalf are increasingly more sectarian. Despite the fact that Syria is a Sunni nation those forces fighting on Assad’s behalf are increasingly either Shiite or Alawite or from another minority. Ordinary Sunni Syrians fear Shiite militias like Hezbollah almost as much, or perhaps even more, than they do the likes of Islamic State (ISIS) or Jabhat al-Nusra. Damascus’s main patron Tehran bears a large share of the responsibility for the increasing sectarian nature of the forces fighting on Assad’s side. It sought to gradually replace the Syrian Army with the National Defense Forces (NDF) militia, a militia which relies heavily on Alawite volunteers. Given its composition such a force would doubtfully have much luck retaking and retaining hold over Sunni-majority parts of the Sunni-majority Syrian state. Something more along the lines of a Sahwa however may have much more success.

Aside from these reported Russian outreaches to Iraq’s Sunni tribesmen the Russians have also been claiming they want to win over the Free Syrian Army (FSA) group in Syria as a force to work with against the likes of ISIS (there have been rumours in the Turkish press that the Russians plan to give close air support to a Syrian Kurdish offensive aimed at closing off the remaining part of Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey). While Russia has claimed on occasion that it is coordinating air strikes with the group the FSA denies this to be so claiming that Russia is actually bombing them on Assad’s behalf. A Russian strategy which does try to win over the FSA and guarantee them an agreeable compromise in return for their ad-hoc coordination against the Islamists would be a smart policy for the Russians to pursue. Russia’s clear aim is, after all, to reestablish Syria as a formidable client regime, and that regime’s protection and survival depends upon a formidable army that can effectively control the country which is certainly not something the likes of Hezbollah and/or the NDF can ever effectively do. By reaching a compromise with some of the Sunni groups Russia can form the basis for a reinvigorated national army for Syria which could prop-up a, possibly even post-Assad, client regime for Moscow in that strategically-important country which could in turn safeguard Russia’s strategic interests and simultaneously combat Islamists.

In Iraq Russia’s aforementioned outreach to the Sunnis may well be motivated by the fear that if they are not won over they could become much more closely aligned with Saudi Arabia and/or Turkey. Both of whom have sponsored groups in Syria which Russia is opposed to. Russia may perceive it to be in its own interest to help Baghdad win Iraq’s Sunnis over to its side by reversing many of the policies carried out by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Russia’s intervention is often characterized in the west as the beginning of an arrogant and ill-thought out embroilment in the region.

Nevertheless the Kremlin has shown some signs that it has the semblance of a long-term strategy which will yield a beneficial outcome for Moscow’s interests in that volatile region.

Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

Comments

 
Bakir Lashkari
Bakir Lashkari | 26/12/2015
If the US has the same! You saw what happend when the American left Baghdad and what is now happening in the middle east like creating the ISIS Dahish in Iraq & Syria!

Be Part of Your Rudaw!

Share your stories, photos and videos with Rudaw, and quite possibly the world.

What You Say

Rojhelati Kurmanc | 4/28/2017 6:04:24 AM
NATO and Israel should attack Iran, you will also get support from Kurds, Baloch, Arabs, Majority Iranians and Gilaki in Iran. Entire arab sunni...
Iran’s Kurdish opposition call for boycott of May elections
| 4 hours ago | (1)
michel.kinnis | 4/27/2017 3:21:49 PM
POTUS Trump is not Housein Obama !! He will help the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq to Prevent Iran to come through to Syria and Lebanon. Israel says...
Rojhelati Kurmanc | 4/28/2017 5:48:43 AM
Turkish trolls working hard, how are you doing "Berivan".
After Turkey struck YPG positions, US says it's asked Ankara to stop
| yesterday at 12:07 | (11)
Dutchman | 4/27/2017 1:27:18 PM
Israel has a right to defend itsself against terrorist groups like Hezbollah and its parners in crime: the Assad regime, Iran and Russia. Putin knows...
Rojhelati Kurmanc | 4/28/2017 5:45:05 AM
The kurds in Libanon have no rights in Libanon. Israel should remove the arabs in Israel and put in the kurds instead. Arabs never took the deal to...
Israeli warplanes strike Lebanese Hezbollah weapons cache near Damascus, reports
| yesterday at 12:52 | (3)
T.I. | 4/27/2017 11:18:15 PM
Merkel knows that the EU can't influence or contain Turkey (Erdogan) through "engagement", what she's really saying here is no matter how bad Turkey...
Mohamedzzz | 4/28/2017 5:12:34 AM
Angela Merkel is right, all Muslim countries look guidance from Turkey and an upset Turkey can bring a lot of trouble, with or without adhering to EU.
Merkel calls it a mistake for the EU to turn its back on Turkey
| 13 hours ago | (3)

Elsewhere on Rudaw

Kurdish MPs ask European parliament to support reactivation of their parliament 14 hours ago |

Kurdish MPs ask European parliament to support reactivation of their parliament

Kurdish parliament has been blocked since October more
Kurdish referendum needs parliamentary mandate, PUK and Gorran 22/4/2017 | (5)

Kurdish referendum needs parliamentary mandate, PUK and Gorran

KDP insists the referendum doesn't need a more
Surviving two genocides: Families escaped Halabja attack only to face Anfal 21/4/2017 | (2)

Surviving two genocides: Families escaped Halabja attack only to face Anfal

“How can I not be worried? My heart burns in pain more
0.188 seconds