Russia in Syria: A Gift to the West (but not to Syrians)

I don’t see why so many Western commentators and analysts are up in arms over Russia’s move into Syria. (Actually, I do: From Ukraine to Iran to Syria, Moscow has been more active in geopolitics than it has been for nearly 25 years.) Moscow’s move into Syria can only be seen as a gift to the West, in terms of strategy and geopolitics. Think of it this way:

Russia has no military experience whatsoever outside of its borders. The Russian military did a ruthlessly good job of stamping out secessionist movements in the Caucasus, and its internal security bureaucracy has done a great job of stifling dissent and shaping the narrative that Moscow wants to be highlighted. Yet Russia’s success outside of its borders has been paltry, at best.

Intervention in Ukraine has brought widespread, global condemnation upon Russia, and economic sanctions to boot.

The Russians in Syria are going to be ruthlessly slaughtered and exploited by the myriad of factions in the region. Not only is Russia backing the wrong horse (Assad), it is backing it up with hardware and personnel that have no experience with the region. Russia has produced an insular intellectual class over the past 15 or 20 years, and this is going to play out badly for its Syrian intervention.

The West, which has an awful lot of experience playing factions off on each other in the Near East, will most likely take advantage of Russian ignorance (to the detriment of Syrian society as whole) and as a result the world will see a Russian military outsmarted, outgunned, and outmanned by an insurgency with no official support from the outside world. The Russians are going to get bloodied in Syria. I don’t see why Western hawks are so keen on making Russia “pay” for its excursion on the global diplomatic stage.

8 thoughts on “Russia in Syria: A Gift to the West (but not to Syrians)

  1. “The Russians in Syria are going to be ruthlessly slaughtered and exploited by the myriad of factions in the region.”

    From what I read, this seems unlikely. The Russian ‘boots on the ground’ seem to be devoted to providing security for installations pretty far away from front lines [such as they are]. The strategy seems to be that Russia provides airstrikes with planes & missiles, and material. Grunts on the ground come from Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah.

    “Russia has produced an insular intellectual class over the past 15 or 20 years, and this is going to play out badly for its Syrian intervention.”

    • Thanks Dr A,

      The answer to your first question can be found in your recognition of this situation: “installations pretty far away from front lines [such as they are].” Emphasis mine. Everything about your analysis is correct, but the fact that there are no front lines suggests to me that the Russians are in for a bloody, losing campaign in the Levant, especially if the West decides to unleash its Islamist allies.

      As to your second question, insularity produces nothing but ignorance. The Russians will be at the mercy of Tehran and Baghdad for intelligence. Given both capital’s track record for honesty and trustworthiness (they have other concerns – namely dealing with their local rivals – to worry about and they will do their best to use Moscow to deal with such concerns), I see nothing but sorrow in store for the Russians.

  2. It is I think, not so much that people care that Russia is intervening, as much as they hope to use it as pretext for US intervention. Something along the lines of: “We need to go into Syria before it goes Russian!”

    • Michelangelo,

      Exactly. This is a strong strain of thought that refuses to recognize the short-sightedness of thinking in terms of “zero-sum.”

  3. Not to spoil the idyllic framework outgoing from the above narrative, but it must be said that the Russian intervention in Syria, alongside Bashar al-Assad and the troops loyal to the Alawite president, has offended many of those you call “Western hawks” (paradoxically using a Russian rhetoric) not because of Russia’s renewed activism in foreign policy, or at least not primarily.

    Be them legitimate or not, Kremlin-backed air strikes should be contextualized in an uncertain environment in which the United States is spending mountains of money on training an army of “moderate rebels”. However, the latter has actually nothing to do with a modern concept of the term “army”, nor with moderation, probably.

    One could argue that the Russian military is providing aid to a war criminal, but it seems to me that the article did not enter into the merits of who is the bad part and who is the good part (or at least the lesser evil).

    At the time being, the U.S.-led anti-Assad coalition is not going to “destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL” (Obama docet) anytime soon, nor is it going to dethrone Assad with bombs, given that Iran, Hezbollah and Russia will keep on providing him with necessary help to resist.

    Last but not least, do you really think that, when it comes to defeating Assad (who must leave, that is for sure), the safety of Syrian people comes first in the intentions of some countries in the coalition (Saudi Arabia, above all) and that they are not pragmatically tempted to bring Syria into their own sphere of influence?

    • Thanks Gennaro,

      Much of what I blogged about here has assumed that readers have been reading me for awhile now, so my apologies for not laying out more background info (you can start here, if you’re interested; what you’ll find is that I’ve already addressed your concerns).

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