Russia faces questions on Assad’s future

The last time that Russia downplayed support for Bashar al-Assad the now reclusive Syrian dictator made his first foreign trip since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War to shore up support in Moscow. While the talks were described by both sides as positive, the Russians were careful still not to put all of their eggs in the Assad basket.

Later, in a sharp break from Iranian policy, Russia again stated publicly that it was up to the Syrian people to choose their leader and that supporting Assad was not a matter of principal:

“We are not saying that Assad should leave or stay,” RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.

But another regime change in the Middle East could be a catastrophe that “could simply turn the whole region into a large black hole”, she added.

Zakharova said Russia had not changed its policy on Assad and that his fate should be decided by the Syrian people.

Iran, for their part, remains steadfast in their support for Assad and his remaining in power after the end of the Civil War which has seen hundreds of thousands die and multiple groups vying for power ranging from the far-extremist ISIS to more “moderate” rebels that are nominally supported by the Western and Gulf Coalition.

The downing of a Russian commercial jet in the Sinai Peninsula by what could be Islamic terrorism has not yet seen a change in Russian military tactics in Syria, although this does carry hope with some analysts that Russia would finally start targeting ISIS and move away from bombing the “moderates”.


Russia has accused others in the international community of evading necessary work on Syria and hiding behind repeated calls for Assad to go.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that making progress ahead of the next meeting on the Syrian conflict is difficult due to some countries’ attempts to “evade” doing the work required and the talks themselves.

“A whole range of our partners are still trying to evade concrete work, the talks, and to limit the issue to abstract calls on the necessity of President Assad’s departure,” Lavrov said, calling it an approach that distracts from work that brings results.

It would be difficult for Russia, in an expanding role as a fellow world policeman, to back Assad and transitively support the atrocities that have been attributed to his regime. Better to keep him at arms length and let the chips fall where they may in due time.

Forget principles and morality. Forget, or try to forget, the quarter-million deaths for which Bashar Assad is responsible, directly or indirectly, since choosing to respond with violence to a peaceful uprising of the Syrian people. Set aside the fact that Assad’s forces have caused 10-15 times more civilian deaths thus far than ISIS, whose horrific execution videos have overshadowed the Syrian dictator’s invisible massacres. But even if you can purge all of this from your thoughts, a policy for Syria that posits Assad as an “alternative” to ISIS is simply not viable. Assad, after all, literally unleashed the ISIS’ current savagery: in May 2011, he released hundreds of Islamic radicals from prison, quickly supplying the infant group with fighters and leaders. He then methodically shelled positions held by moderate rebels, while no less methodically sparing ISIS’ stronghold in Raqqa. And then, in mid-2014, he allowed Iraqi elements of ISIS to find sanctuary in eastern Syria.

In other words, Assad created the monster that he is now pretending to fight. Is all that not a little much for a potential ally? Can working with Assad possibly provide a sound basis for what is supposed to be a common effort? The bottom line is that Assad has no interest in winning. The man who now holds himself up as civilization’s last bulwark against ISIS is also the last man who wants to see it eliminated.


[Christian Science Monitor] [Reuters] [Wall Street Journal] [Al Arabiya] [Russia Behind The Headlines] [Al Bawaba] [Photo courtesy]