Russia In Syria

P.Kharel:  ast year this time, hardly anyone might have expected a ceasefire to be reached in Syria, especially under the aegis of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Well, the unlikely happened during the closing days of the year that just rung out. It was a breathtaking breakthrough that caught many governments surprised. Quiet diplomacy among the key stakeholders under the coordination of Moscow worked. Ankara and Tehran also played an important role in finding the eventual breakthrough.

 Political analysts and the international media did not give any strong indications of the events that eventually unfolded to worldwide welcome. The UN Security Council also endorsed the peace agreement.

The single stroke of signing the peace agreement in Syria has catapulted Russia’s return to the global stage. It has shored up Putin’s profile both at home and in the international arena. And the development saw the United States being marginalised, as it had no hand in the peace brokered by Russia and Turkey with Iran close by.

US ‘marginalised’

In reaction, The New York Times editorialsed (“Can Russia make peace, or just war?”) pointing out that the fighting in Syria had claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people and said: “This is a conflict that wouldn’t have happened, or lasted so long, save for the cynical brutality of President Bashar al-Assad and chief allies, Russia and Iran. … Vladimir Putin has marginalised Washington in Syria.”

There are two major questions lurking in the minds of many people: Whether the ceasefire will stick and, if it does, for how long? Hasn’t Putin’s international profile taken a big boost? This is always a predictable query. This time, however, Western scholars and media are intensely curious whether the agreement will work for long.

At the US prodding and also the behest of other major European capitals, France was all ready to militarily intervene in the war in Syria, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds. The Western media had built up an emergency wake-up call that the humanitarian conditions were grave and tragic. But before the French troops could put their boots on Syrian soil, they were ordered an abrupt halt, thanks to Washington’s last minute change of mind and strategy, when Moscow gave signs that it would intervene aggressively if Paris did a Libya in Syria. The French move fell like a house of cards or, shall we say, evaporated.

The Russian peace efforts were slow but steady -- and more definitive and clear than any time previously during the six years. Russian entry into the scene turned the tide, favouring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who the US-led West wants out at any cost. Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani welcomed the Syrian army’s victory against the terrorists in Aleppo, also in December.

Ever since Russia’s entry into the conflict began in September 2015, Assad’s position has regained strength. Iran also began providing military advisors and “volunteer” fighters.

Is the power equation in West Asia taking a new turn, bringing in Russia as an important player in the region and thus ending the US monopoly of sorts? Russian presence would mean competition for the US. Of late, Egypt and Turkey do not sound as rigid against Assad as they were earlier. Sunni-dominated Egypt and Shiite Iran have revised their policies and softened their stance toward Assad.

A NATO member, Turkey’s direct involvement in the Moscow-led two-pronged initiative of militarily backing the government in Damascus while, also, driving for talks and negotiations with armed rebels. Stray breaches from the very start notwithstanding, the ceasefire has kept holding on, even if some groups announced it early on that they were not obliged to abide by it.

Whatever the eventual degree of the ceasefire’s success and subsequent events, the Russian initiative has brought about a ray of hope that the local war could find a durable breakthrough; it has generated new hopes. And to think that British spy agency chief had, barely a fortnight prior to the ceasefire announcement, accused Moscow of scuttling efforts at defeating the Islamic State in Syria.

In December, MI6 chief Alex Younger charged that Putin and Assad were hindering the Islamic State’s defeat. The subsequent truce between the warring sides in Syria rendered the British spymaster’s statement as small talk.

A fortnight after the November 8 presidential elections, Trump told a group of media representatives that the United States should not “be a nation builder”, his campaign’s thrust that described the US involvement in the war in Iraq as “one of the great mistakes in the history of our country”.

Trump’s views on the Iraqi war could mean, under the new administration, reduced scale of American presence in Iraq whose people have suffered several wars since the 1980s. Many Americans have realised how they were misled by the George W. Bush’s administration in involving their nation in the attention-diverting, energy-sapping, money-wasting and prestige-losing folly.

In Afghanistan, too, the protracted war led by the US has not restored normalcy despite the enormous billions of dollars down the drain and hundreds of thousands of people killed over a decade and a half. The Taliban and other militants control no less than half of the country’s territory, with the regime in Kabul not being able to even bring the rebels to the negotiating table on a regular basis. The Taliban wants the foreign forces out of Afghan before any meaningful talks are held.

Changing world order

In the post World War II years, the US and its European allies have dominated the world on their terms, especially after the formal end of the Cold War in 1991. It is true that no nation or region can hold on to its dominance of the world forever. This basic truth has been hard to grasp for the power elites in the traditionally dominant societies.

According to a 2016 report, nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty, with the top one-tenth of 1 per cent owning as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent of the American people. The trillions spent in the misadventures in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan could have been better utilised in reducing the poverty within the US itself.

The newly sworn-in Trump administration could direct its attention to the reality of the inevitable. Rolling back some of the decisions that inflicted enormous human and material losses on far off lands, and, in the process, discrediting the US, could be a route that Trump might consider.


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