Russian Bases in Syria: The Price for Assad's Departure

Russian Bases in Syria: The Price for Assad's Departure
Stories | 20 Jan 2016

By: Tareq Azizeh

It was not long into the start of the direct Russian military intervention in Syria, until the Russians rushed to work on politically investing this intervention. The attributes of this new political maneuver unfolded through the surprise “visit" by Bashar al-Assad to Moscow and his meeting with the Russian President a few days ago; in addition to what is being circulated in the media about an initiative for a solution in Syria, clauses of which [Saudi Arabian newspaper] al-Sharq al-Awsat had leaked. It was suggested that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov presented these to his US counterpart John Kerry during their last meeting in Vienna, and that the Americans had found them “workable."

Based on what was published by al-Sharq al-Awsat, the initiative provides for the procedural military as well as other comprehensive political aspects; some of which are not that different from what other, previous initiatives which had met with failure. The difference today, however, lies not in some novel—and significant—additional details alone; but in the evolution of the scene, following the Russian direct military intervention and, more importantly, the "maturity" which the Syrian war had attained. This seems to have been enough to convince the actors—both internationally and regionally—to reach a settlement that will put an end to the war.

This initiative emulates its predecessors in calling for a dialogue that includes the regime, the opposition—both external and internal, and the Free Syrian Army [FSA]. This dialogue would result in a general amnesty and the release of all detainees; parliamentary and presidential elections; and the formation of a national unity government in which all parties are represented. The initiative also alluded to the issue of freezing the fronts—specifically between the "FSA and the regime forces." The initiative also referred to the regime and the opposition embarking on an effort to break the siege on those areas besieged by each respective party; in addition to "the opposition putting an end to its offensive, and [supporting external] states freezing their arming of these factions.” And, finally, to "find a formula for the integration of FSA battalions into the regime's army, after the integration of pro-regime militias within therein."

It may be understandable, at another level, for the initiative to include a proposal to “identify a common goal bank among the countries [currently] bombing in Syria,” as, in theory, at least, one of the necessities of "combatting terrorism”—the stated objective of the various countries whose fighter jets roam the skies over Syria; and who have already begun to discuss with Russia to coordinate overflights. What is remarkable, however, is the explicit threat of expanding the aforementioned "target bank" to include those "factions that do not accept a political solution." That therefore means, that any fighting group rejecting—for one reason or another—the planned "political solution,” would become a potential target. Russian and Western sorties would, consequently, not have as their objective the ”fight against terrorism" alone; but to impose a solution the great powers want by force and the targeting those who reject it. That would hold, even if such group were not part of a those groups designated as terrorist [such—but not exclusive to—al-Nusra Front, or the Islamic State].

Perhaps the highlight of the initiative’s proposals—if it were indeed confirmed, and if it actually reflected Russia's official position—is that it would mark the first time in which Russia issues a clear position on the fate of Assad. According to one of the [initiative’s] clauses, Russian President Vladimir Putin would guarantee that Bashar al-Assad will not nominate himself for the presidential elections that will follow the conference dialogue; while at the same time keeping the door open to the possibility of people close to Assad—or other of the regime’s figures—to nominate themselves. The Russian deal on the fate of Assad and the symbols of his regime culminates in another clause stipulating a pledge that guarantees amnesty to "all opposition, at home and abroad—even those who took up arms" in exchange for the opposition vowing to "not to prosecute, in the future, either al-Assad or figures of his regime;” whether they choose to stay in Syria, or leave.

As for the price Russia asks for, in exchange for accepting the departure of Assad; enter the most salient clause of the initiative: "Russia shall conserve its military bases in Syria under a decision by the Security Council."

It is most probable that such a [proposed] settlement is not the brainchild of the  Russians alone. It would equally be illusory to believe that Russia's military intervention alone shall ensure the success of this initiative. It yet has to lead to concrete results in the field situation on the ground. There are, to date, no significant changes to the fronts and main combat lines; and the achievements of the Russian war machine in Syria have not exceeded a show of force and direction of political messages. That is in addition to committing numerous massacres against unarmed civilians, who have come to quite forcefully experiencing Russian aircraft fire—albeit at the hands of the Russians themselves [not their Syrian proxy] this time around.

 

Opinion articles published do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rozana.


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