WEBDESK: But for Islamic State becoming a stakeholder in the Syrian civil war President Assad might have gone by now.
That is no more the case; he is stronger now than before thanks to the changing battlefield realities and the growing perception that as a lesser evil he should be part of the solution as against working on any minus-Assad formula.
Even the United States, President Assad’s principal non-Arab critic, is now prepared to wait for an orderly transition in Syria instead of his outright instant ouster. A tyrant Assad may be but he is being propped up as the weapon of choice to fight back the brutal outfit, so-called Islamic State. So if Russia wanted to join an anti-Islamic State air action it was considered to be no problem – until it actually happened.
But much to the chagrin of anti-Assad coalition partners on the very first day of air strikes the Russian planes struck a camp of the US-trained rebels instead of any Islamic State positions. And Moscow is not apologetic about it, saying it would bomb the Islamic State and “other terrorist groups”, and that the strikes were “legitimate, because they were in support of a government”. It now appears that in all probability, Moscow has joined the Syrian civil war to help its strategic ally in Damascus under the cover of fighting the Islamic State.
That is to great disappointment and serious concern of the United States, its European allies and the anti-Assad regional countries, including Turkey whose President Erdogan declared that he is losing patience with Russian violations of his country’s airspace, although Moscow has explained that its warplanes had violated Turkey’s airspace by mistake.
In tandem with arrival of Iranian troops in Syria to join a major ground offensive on behalf of Assad government the Russian move tends to redraw the battle lines in Syria to conform to where these were during the Cold War. The portents of latest developments suggest of an enduring confrontation of global dimensions. So far, it was essentially a contention for geopolitical influence in the Middle East, with Iran and Saudi Arabia heading the contending powers. But with Russia and Iran entering the conflict zone the Syrian civil war stands internationalised.
Bashar al-Assad may well be another Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qadhafi. But those planning his removal should not be unmindful of what happened to the people of their countries after they were removed from power by force. The UN member-states are expected to take clear position in relation to Syrian conflict anytime soon.
The pro-Iran government in Baghdad seems to have decided on that; it may invite Russia for similar air action, because, according to it, the ‘American air strikes against the Islamic State forces didn’t do much to push them back’. The Saudis have expressed opposition to the growing Russian involvement in Syria, claiming the strikes ’caused civilian casualties instead of hard line Islamic State militants’.
Their support for anti-Assad rebels is expected to continue, irrespective of where Washington stands. In a way therefore the Russian intervention in Syria is a game-changer and is likely to spread out a new ballgame different from what it was for the last five years.
Rightly then a strong concern about the evolving Syrian crisis was reflected from the speeches at the UN General Assembly, quite a few of which had underscored the need for holding multilateral negotiations on the Syrian crisis. Their concern is indeed genuine; it brooks no delay on the part of the United Nations to convert this concern into a meaningful action by setting the table for some kind of multilateral negotiations