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Russia’s Intractable War in Syria

June 29, 2016

Russian special forces – Spetsnaz preparing for a mission during Russia’s last forray into the Greater Middle East; the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan – Source: Wikipedia

I have written here before about the dangers of intervening in Syria’s civil war. The response normally given by hawks to those who would not intervene is the idea that Russia has filled the void created by a lack of American leadership. It can very easily appear that Russia is making strategic gains at the expense of the United States in the Middle East. However, this is an outsiders view into a regime that curtails the free press and rarely, if ever, admits to mistakes. Thus it is possible that Russia’s intervention may not goes as planned. I highly encourage you to read this post from War on the Rocks: Russia is in Charge in Syria: How Moscow Took Control of the Battlefield and Negotiating Table. I have quoted the part I think most relevant.

But if negotiations are doomed, military victory is unachievable, and Russia’s preferred mix of military coercion and politics is impossible to properly calibrate, then it is unclear what sort of endgame Russia can realistically pursue in Syria.

For a United States whose avenues to a negotiated resolution to the war now run through Moscow, Russia’s dilemma means that America’s prospects for achieving peace in Syria are similarly dim. But given that a negotiated peace in Syria is – if we’re being honest – impossible, then withholding the political recognition Russia desires and spectating as Russia tries unsuccessfully to solve Syria may be the least worst option.

Without a clear path to political or military victory, for its part it seems Russia can either fuel the conflict indefinitely or try to force a resolution by stepping up its involvement and risking a repeat of the Soviet Union’s costly intervention in Afghanistan.

And some in Syria are waiting for Russian intervention to collapse under its strategic contradictions — including Jabhat al-Nusrah, apparently.

Asked how Jabhat al-Nusrah and Syria’s rebels could cope with Russian airstrikes, a Nusrah media official said earlier this year that the answer was mostly patience.

“Did the Americans accomplish anything with their air force in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere?” asked the official, who uses the nom du guerre Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi and who spoke over a messaging app.

“In the end, every army has only limited energy,” said al-Maqdisi. “There will come a moment when it runs out. Then everything will be overturned, and this land’s people will continue to fight. The foreigner always leaves in the end.”

Further reading on Russia’s Syrian gambit as well as historical parallels can be found in this article: Moscow’s Clients from Kabul to Damascus: Strength and Strategy in International Politics

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