Russia gains edge; Assad survives

Russia gains edge; Assad survives

This year’s New York City gathering of world leaders was the fifth U.N. General Assembly the defiant leader of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, could survive despite numerous crimes he has committed against humanity since 2011. Under the shield of Russia and Iran, the Assad regime seems to have taken a deep breath as it has never been so close to fully collapsing as earlier this year. 

Russia’s political and military support to Assad, along with Iranian backing, created new life channels for Assad. Moscow’s open military deployment to Syria and determination in continuing to provide more weaponry assistance (including the deployment of ground troops if necessary) has changed ground rules in Syrian diplomacy drastically. 

Only few months after the U.S.-led international coalition broadened its military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Turkey decided to let its allies to use its military bases, Russia made clear that it wouldn’t allow the Western bloc’s military installation over Syria and that it penetrated into the conflict theater. As stated earlier, this game changer move gave an upper hand to Russia and therefore the ability to make new proposals for the solution to the Syrian crisis. 

On the same day world leaders gathered in New York for U.N. meetings, a senior Russia official announced an “international contact group of the most influential outside players” is expected to take part in Syria peace talks in October. According to Russian deputy foreign minister responsible for Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, these outside influential outside players are composed of Russia, the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. 

He said the group would meet after the formation of four working groups on Syria in Geneva and work together with the U.N.’s envoy to Syria, Steffan de Mistura. Mistura has already been working to find a common ground for a political transition in Syria with the inclusion of regime opponents. But his drafted plans that envisaged not-so-quick removal of Assad from power are drawing criticisms from countries like Turkey. 

Upcoming days will show whether such an international contact group can be composed and brought together to discuss Syria but there are strong indications that a Russian-led process could be kicked.

President Barack Obama, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, made clear that a tyrant like Assad can have no place in the future of Syria and that his country will continue to chase ISIL terrorists. He also said:  

“But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully. The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.”

Obama’s reference to Russia and Iran has particular significance as it shows Washington’s readiness to discuss different perceptions and proposals for stopping the bloodshed in Syria. There comes the frequently asked but not responded question: Will the Western bloc will accept a political transition with Assad?