With Russia’s rapid exit from the Syria’s civil war, Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad and his war-weary military will be left largely on their own if the current ceasefire fails. This was a failing position that served him and his forces very poorly before Russia stepped into the fight. Now with peace talks on the horizon, Assad is more leveraged to make a deal with rebels and other stakeholders than ever before.
In some ways the world can thank President Putin for this situation. It does seem like the result of some truly incredible strategy by him and his Kremlin advisers. Yet beyond Moscow’s now apparent set of goals for their military intervention in Syria, there seems to be a much grander scheme afoot.
Assad may not still be walking the earth if Russia hadn’t stepped in to defend him and his regime late last September. Now, after saving him once, it is highly unlikely that Russia will do it again.
Obviously Assad will not simply turn himself in to face war crimes charges, but he could agree to an exit strategy that would turn over power to some sort of provisional government and would allow him to live in protected exile... like in, say, I don’t know, Russia?
Such a provisional government would have to be very Russian-friendly, as there is no way Moscow will lose its strategic Mediterranean port in Tartus and now its newly acquired air base near Latakia that it has fought hard to acquire. In other words, any peace solution will have to meet Russia’s strategic aims as much as anyone else’s.
Cracks in the relationship between Damascus and Moscow began to show over the last couple of months, with rumors of Russia coercing Assad to step down and Moscow’s outright disapproval of Assad’s position on the ceasefire plan that has allowed Russia’s forces to make quick exit from Syria.
Although Russia has left Assad in a far better tactical position than before their intervention, strategically he remains very vulnerable with few military cards left to play should the fighting reignite.
This puts Russia in a nearly perfect position to attempt to broker a solution to the conflict on an international stage. Once again, such a solution would be partial to Moscow’s interests—but it could very well include using Assad as a sacrificial pawn.
With this in mind, you can see why Russia agreed to stop its cooperative hammer and anvil operation against Syrian rebels in the battleground metropolis of Aleppo. If they had finished the job, and Assad’s forces took the entire city and continued their hunt for rebel forces with the help of Russian air power, the rebel threat would be almost totally diminished. Without that threat to the Assad regime in place, there would be far less leverage when it comes to pushing Assad to the negotiating table.
Now Assad and his henchmen sleep at night without the might of Russia’s military protecting their regime and while only a shaky ceasefire is in place. Also, nearly the entire eastern and central part of Syria remains under the control of ISIS, and terrorist army’s goal has been to continue pushing west towards Damascus.
These are some very powerful reasons to sit down and make a deal, and all along they may very well have been meticulously engineered by Russia to make Assad do just that.
Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com