MESOP TODAYS COMMENTARY : Back Europe & Russia Is Russia afraid to face Saudi and Turkey in Syria? By Muhammad Zahid Gul

MIDDLE EAST MONITOR – Wednesday, 02 March 2016 – The Russian policy in Syria is facing a range of difficulties that make its political and military mission very difficult. Russia is closer to failure than to success, and this cannot be evidenced more than by the fact that former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, who is ruling Russia like in the days of the Soviet Union, saw the need to support the Russian Orthodox Church and that he resorted, on many occasions, that received wide media coverage, to making appearances alongside the Russian Church Patriarch, since he waged war on Syria.

These public appearances and alliances between religion and politics were not needed by the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan. However, Putin needs the Russian Church and this is cited by the fact that the Russian president is not convinced that the Russian people support this military operation in Syria. Therefore, he wanted to back his political position with the church’s support in order to lessen the Russian popular opposition or to trick the Russian people and church that his war in Syria is a holy war against the Muslims there.

The other proof that Putin’s political position is weak is the fact that he needed to lie to the Russian public and the world and pretend that his war was against Daesh. However, he proved that his war in Syria aims to protect Bashar Al-Assad’s position and his sectarian alliance. Over 90 per cent of the Russian army’s strikes were on moderate opposition targets, not on Daesh. In addition to this, the most recent European summit in Brussels accused the Russian policy in Syria of undermining the peace process and supporting Daesh. Similar reports were issued by the US, UN and international observers in Syria.

When Russia and America announced the ceasefire agreement in Syria, without conferring with the rivaling forces or regional countries, Iran expressed its hesitation regarding the agreement. It even became closer with Turkey and sent a new ambassador to Ankara to improve relations with Turkey. Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia may all stand to lose something from this agreement and the consequences of it, whether it will be adopted and committed to militarily and in terms of security or if American or Russian alternatives are explored.

Bashar Al-Assad is also the most critical of Russia’s projects to divide Syria and the involvement of other Syrian components in the control of Syrian territories. He voiced his rejection of this plan and this was criticised by Russia’s representative in the UN Security Council. He criticised Bashar for saying that he wants to restore his control over the entire Syrian territory, and this is considered by Russia a deviation from the Russia plan for Syria to support Al-Assad’s government. Russia came to rescue Al-Assad after his army was on the verge of collapsing for the second time in mid-July 2015. Russia also aimed to make Al-Assad a party capable of participating in the political negotiations regarding the final solution for the future of Syria, in order for Russia to maintain its influence and interests in the country. Russia still believes that Al-Assad’s government and its sectarian allies are the party that will preserve Russia’s interests in Syria. The Russian president lied to the Russian people and to the Arab and Muslim countries by saying that Russia will enter Syria to attack Daesh. It copied America’s lie about the international alliance it organsied to fight Daesh in September 2014 in Paris. However, all that was achieved in Iraq and Syria is death and destruction.

Russia’s presence in Syria is based on a huge lie, i.e. fighting Daesh. This lie has been exposed to the world, and therefore it requires the Syrian revolutionary forces to reveal this lie to the world, as well as reveal the heinousness of the crimes committed by the Russian army in Syria. The first countries whose media must highlight Russia’s violence against the Syrian people are the Arab and Muslim countries, starting with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. This is because the victims of the Russian strikes are the Arab and Muslim Syrian people, especially the Sunni Muslims, as the Russian strikes mainly target Sunni cities and villages, mostly in north Syria. Why is the official and popular Arab media silent in the face of the Russian attacks and crimes against the Syrian people, especially since Russia is not achieving any of its goals other than killing innocents and civilians?

The Russian leadership realised two months after launching its attacks on the Syrian people that its military operations failed to force the Syrian opposition to accept the conditions of the Russian political and military solution. Therefore it worked on creating a distraction and bringing attention to Russia’s conflict with Turkey. However, Turkey realised Putin’s goals and thwarted his plan to expand the type and extent of the conflict and limited it to Syria.

Turkey is an expert at revealing former Soviet political lies, which Putin has returned to in his involvement in the region. Turkey had thwarted Bashar Al-Assad’s plans in the past, just as it thwarted Iran’s plans to involve Turkey in the Syrian conflict. Iran’s plans were exposed inside Iran and the Arab world, as it was shown to be a sectarian country that kills Muslims brutally and hatefully. The Iranian leadership tried to draw Turkey into the Syrian conflict at a time when it failed to eliminate the Syrian revolution in mid-2015. Therefore, it caused the Turkish government internal Turkish problems by inciting the terrorist parties to back down from the internal peace plan and commit terrorist acts. However, the government refused to be taken by the sectarian and national wars and insisted on keeping the conflict in Syria, keeping it a conflict between the Syrian people and a murderous tyrannical regime. Turkey is supporting the Syrian people humanitarianly and is protecting its borders from any security threat, regardless of its source.

The Russian plan to embarrass Turkey with its relations with Daesh failed and proved that Russia is involved in cooperation with Daesh by attacking the targets of the moderate Syrian revolutionary forces. Russia was providing air cover for Daesh’s attacks on the Syrian revolutionary forces in a manner that serves Al-Assad’s regime and his sectarian allies; even if it was unaware it was doing so. In addition to this, four months after Russia’s indiscriminate, destructive and vindictive attacks on the Syrian people, Russia realised that it reached the end of its goals for the military operations and that it is in a state of military confusion as well as political confusion. The Vienna and then Geneva conferences, followed by the ceasefire agreement, which was violated on the first day with terrorist attacks carried out by Al-Assad’s army, while the Russian aircrafts refrained from any military activity on the first day but then continued the following days, proves that Russia lost its confidence in its military role in Syria, despite its harshness, violence and terrorism in the past months.

Russia is facing the dilemma of its presence in Syria and its role in the country. It lost its military option, as the Russian advanced aircraft was unable to win the battle with the Syrian opposition. The Russian army did not come to fight for months or years, and Russia’s political plans are failing one after the other, from Vienna, to Geneva, the bilateral agreement with America, and even its call for a federal system in Syria. These are all more like dreams than a political project. Today, Russia is afraid that its failure will be revealed and that it will be pressured internally and externally. It seems that Lavrov is trying to jump the ship before it sinks. If the Arab countries and Turkey take advantage of Russia’s weakness after the Iranian weakness, then they will posses very powerful cards in the Syrian conflict. Therefore, Russia fears that its project in Syria will turn into an explicit and clear hostile project against the Arab and Muslim nations, especially since Russia will not be able to use the false Daesh scarecrow if Turkey and Saudi Arabia enter the international alliance to combat Daesh as well.These fears are currently being expressed by Russian analysts in anticipation of the Arab, Muslim and international pressure Russia will face and they will loudly voice their rejection of Russia’s presence in Syria and its role in it. The Arab countries and Turkey’s announcement of their willingness to confront the Russian occupation in Syria is a message to Russia that the Daesh scarecrows can also be used by the Arabs and Turks, not just by the Russians and Americans, especially in Syria, as long as they are part of the international alliance. Therefore, neither Russia nor Iran or Bashar can prevent them from doing so, as the international alliance possesses international resolutions from the Security Council to combat terrorism anywhere in the world. Therefore, a former Russian intelligence colonel said that Moscow is afraid of the seriousness of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Arab countries in carrying out a ground operation in Syria, which will lead to the ignition of a regional war with unpredictable results, and this will take the conflict to serious proportions.

The entry of Arab or Muslim countries into Syria, as they have the right to since the victims are Arab and Muslims, will reveal the truth about the Russian attacks in Syria. Russia has tried to circumvent this confrontation by appealing to the appetites of Arab Gulf countries and Turkey with major economic projects with Russia before it began its attack on Syria on 30 September 2015. They did so in order to guarantee the silence of these countries over the attacks that Russia planned to launch.

Russia tricked the Arab countries, which did not condemn its indiscriminate attacks on schools, hospitals, markets and mosques with this trick, while Turkey expressed its rejection of Russia’s occupation when Erdogan announced that the mission of the Syrian popular revolution had expanded, because it was now required to liberate Syria from foreign occupation in reference to Russia’s presence in Syria. This requires the Arab countries to launch a widespread media campaign against Russia’s presence in Syria. This is a brotherly duty they must carry out towards their Syrian brethren, and at the same time, it is humanitarian aid to the Russian people and government because the US will fail in the ceasefire and Putin and Russia’s losses in Syria will grow. However, the other loss is the loss of Arab and Muslim lives and blood. The Arab and Muslim pressure must increase in order to remove the Russian occupation from Syria, and they will then lead to the collapse of all the consequences of the Iranian occupation as well.

The Russian policy is in major trouble and it will not be able to escape this without withdrawing from Syria before it is too late. The Russian interests in Syria and the region are major and they will not be ensured or preserved by Bashar Al-Assad or the next government the Russians are trying to establish through American delusions. The American policy is an evasive policy that seeks to please everyone. It is trying to please Saudi Arabia, the Arab countries, Russia, Turkey and the European countries. It is also trying to show its support for the Syrian opposition forces, while it is closer to pleasing the Iranian government and Bashar Al-Assad. The fact that the Americans have talked about the presence of an alternate plan to the ceasefire agreement with Russia, while Russia officially denies this, is proof that America is balancing the Russians, Arabs, Turks and Iranians as part of a clear vision and strategy for the Americans, i.e. the prolongation of the conflict in Syria until everyone has exhausted and depleted their capabilities in Syria and other heated spots in the Arab and Muslim world. Will the Arabs use their pressure cards against Russia, especially those feared by Moscow?

Translated from AlKhaleejOnline, 2 March 2016. –