Last week’s surprise visit from president Assad to Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was reported heavily by the media, as many questioned Putin’s motives in Syria and the outcome that he is hoping to achieve. Whilst Putin and the Russian government insist that their involvement in Syria is purely an attempt to thwart terrorism and terrorist groups within the area, many are inclined to question whether or not this is true. Meanwhile, the US and other western groups continue to launch their own airstrikes against IS within the country.
On the evening of Tuesday the 20th of October, President Assad of Syria payed a surprise visit to Vladimir Putin in Moscow, supposedly to discuss Russia’s military tactics against terrorist organisations within Syria. This was the first time since the Civil War began in Syria that Assad has left Damascus and is the first military operation beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War. This highlights not only the importance of this meeting but the trust that has developed between the two leaders.
Both parties have expressed positive outcomes from this meeting with regard to undermining the influence of IS and other terrorist groups within the country, with Assad stating that Russia’s involvement had stopped terrorism becoming more harmful and widespread within Syria. Putin also argued that Russia is providing a positive dynamic to the fighting and that they have made improvements in Syria.
However, whilst Russia insist that their military targets are limited to IS, there are reports of western-backed groups having been hit. Further analysis has also suggested that many of the targets eliminated by Russia have been strategically important to Assad’s regime and have helped the Syrian government and their allies to start an offensive on the ground. These targets have included weapon storage areas, ammunition dumps and any command-and-control infrastructure that Syrian intelligence is aware of. This, and the fact that the Russian government have not carried out any strikes anywhere else in the middle-east would suggest that there is a deeper motive at play here.
Certainly Putin is adamant that the conflict can only be resolved through political means, and it seems to be obvious who Putin believes should be at the head of this political solution. He is quoted as saying that he hopes his efforts will serve to provide a long term resolution through the working together of all political forces, ethnic and religious groups. With this in mind, it seems as though Russia is firmly cementing its influence and control in Syria with Putin arguing that only through Russia’s influence will Assad succeed in his aims. Furthermore, many are arguing that the US have been targeting IS strongholds in the country since September with very little success, prompting them to question why Russia have decided to follow in their footsteps, weeks later, when the tactic looks set to fail.
However, it would seem as though Russia’s interest in Syria is no greater than that of the other international nations involved. If Russia is not trying to influence the political situation in Syria, then perhaps their main goal is to protect their sole asset in the Black Sea, which they lease to Syria. In fact, days after meeting with President Assad, secretaries of state from the US and Russia, and foreign ministers from Turkey and Saudi Arabia met in Vienna to discuss the situation in the Middle East. With this in mind, there is the suggestion that Putin is not trying to control or gain influence in Syria but on the international stage as a whole.
Perhaps Russia’s motives really do stem from a desire to help in an area where they have some influence and therefore feel it is their duty to help in any way they can, just as the US and other foreign parties feel they should also. Perhaps we are simply sceptical to think that there is something amiss in the motives that are at play here. Or perhaps we are right to question such an important alliance at such an important time in Syrian history. Only time will serve to give the real answers, but one thing is certain. Mr Putin better watch his back, because all eyes are watching and waiting to see what his next move in Syria will be.
Jets flying at Russia’s Victory Day Parade 2013 (c) flickr.com/koraxdc