After almost a decade on 30th September 2015, Russia has initiated its first direct intervention in the Middle East, after its parliament approved to launch air strikes in Syria. According to the Russian Defense ministry, the first wave of air strikes targeted the Islamic State (IS). But the following day, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign minister, stated that the air campaign also targets “all terrorists”. The chairman of the Russian parliament’s International Affairs Committee, Alexei Pushkov, categorized all groups fighting the incumbent Syrian president Assad as terrorists; and as for the moderate opposition, Russia insists, are “…a myth invented by the USA.” So according to President Putin, Russia is taking “preventative measures to fight and destroy militants and terrorists,” arguing that they “should not wait for them to come to their house.” Supporters of the Syrian government and its media apparatus have strongly endorsed the involvement of Russia.
However, opposition activists and rebel fighters argue to the contrary. An activist in the northern Homs province, Khoodair Khusheif, expressed his fear to the New York Times that “If these raids continue this way, Russia will kill a larger number of civilians than Bashar did in four years.” US Defense Secretary, Aston Carter, also argues that Russian’s intervention “risks escalating the civil war in Syria…” and is “…pouring gasoline on the fire.” However, according to Sergei Lavrov, “the goal is terrorism and they are not supporting anyone against their people;” and President Putin, in a live broadcast from Kremlin, added that “civilians killed in air strikes” are information attacks.
Aside from the controversies, Russia’s presence is proving to be a game changer. Jim Muir reported to the BBC that, with the help of USA the rebels had made significant advances in both the north and the south indicating President Assad’s “diminished domain perhaps to the point of collapse.” Nevertheless, Russia’s intervention seems to change this scenario and is deemed by many to bring balance between the two conflicting sides.
Russia’s air strikes is considered to damage and undermine the IS, while USA and its coalition partners, who “have already conducted more than 7,000 strikes in Syria and Iraq failed to destroy it,” says the BBC correspondent Jonathan Marcus. However, unlike the US which lacks effective forces on the ground, Russia’s air force, with the collaboration of the ground forces of Assad’s loyal army, have a huge advantage in bringing about significant changes. This can alter the stalemate and help Assad gain time, since for the Russians as President Putin stipulated to the CBS, “…his regime is a bulwark and the only hope to stop the IS.”
“Russia’s stance, more or less appears to be shared by the USA and the EU policy makers,” says Charles Lister, BBC correspondent, “[as] they have suggested in their recent statements that they may no longer see Bashar al-Assad’s immediate departure as an integral part of a solution to the Syrian Crisis.” For some, Assad’s regime is neither a better alternative to the IS, nor is it believed to bring a sustainable peace in Syria. However, according to Sergie Lavrov, “fighting terrorism must be a priority” as one must draw a lesson from the consequences of Saddam Hussein’s and Mohammed al-Gaddafi’s collapse.
With the help of Russia, if Assad manages to defeat non-IS rebels; there is a possibility then that the international community may stand beside him on his fight against terrorism against the remaining terrorist group – IS.
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