Syria: Four Years of War and the Situation in the Region

The results of the last four years have been tragic for Syria: tens of thousands have been killed and wounded, over two million made refugees, many cities brought to ruins, and the country is still in the throes of a grave economic and humanitarian crisis.

Rossiya Segodnya Press Center recently hosted a round-table discussion on the subject: “Syria: Four Years of War and the Situation in the Region”. The event was attended, among others, by Ambassador Andrei Baklanov, adviser to the Deputy Chairperson of the Federation Council and Valdai Club expert.

The Syrian disaster has severely destabilized the Middle East, led to an unprecedented wave of terrorism and extremism, and plunged the region into chaos.

Andrei Baklanov noted that the events in Syria had implications for the entire world and were very instructive. There is a tendency in the world to “lecture others” and to use armed force if they are not obedient enough.

The starting point of the conflict in Syria was that its regime was too undemocratic and that it employed the army and security forces each time it felt threatened. Has the situation improved four years on? Has the regime abandoned strong-arm methods in favor of milder attitudes? The effect has been the opposite. In spring 2011, when the Syrian leadership was criticized for its excessive brutality, they began drafting relevant bills and launched a democratization process. Later on, the process stalled because the agenda for the day was on how to hold ground against attacking bandits and armed groups. So, after four years the importance and influence of the security agencies have only increased.

Mr. Baklanov believes that all attempts to improve the situation in the country via abstract democratization will only lead to contrary results. The nation is resisting this pressure.

Recently, Mr. Baklanov returned from a trip to Syria, where he made contacts with representatives of different political groups. In his opinion, no prospect for a political settlement is likely to emerge in the short term. The Syrian government, jointly with other states, should offer rebuff to ISIS and put things at least in some order at home. He believes it is necessary to help the Syrian government forces because they are fighting against groups of bandits. According to Mr. Baklanov, it is in Russia’s interests to assist them in winning this war.

How long will Damascus be able to resist the terrorists and outside interference? The Syrians think that the internal situation is very grave, but the worst is over. There was a period when Syria was facing the threat of a direct US invasion and this prospect still exists. The Syrians are generally coping in the territories under their control and hope for improvement in the future. Even the United States considers it necessary to fight the Islamic State.

The period when the US was ready to move from supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons to giving them direct military support is in the past.

On the other hand, says Andrei Baklanov, the Islamic State is a tool of US policies in the region. The Syrians and the Iraqis are writing that a conflict is brewing between the US military and the Iraqi army over the degree of intensity in the war against the Islamic State. The Iraqis and those who have fought ISIS for a long time are ready for a massive offensive, while the Americans are holding back the attack. It’s an odd situation: both states are fighting against a common enemy; the weaker ally is ready to attack, while a stronger one says not to hurry.

Russia must support the current Syrian regime in all respects, including in the area of military-technical cooperation, because Syria’s weakening may lead to the victory of criminal groups. The most important thing at the moment is to prevent the collapse of the regime in Damascus and the coming to power of criminal elements.

To summarize, Andrei Baklanov said that to his regret the military crisis in Syria would not be diffused as fast as everyone would like. Measures must be taken to prevent the current regime from suffering a military and political fiasco. It is necessary to continue helping Syria while keeping an eye on the political situation. If it improves, a more effective joint effort should be launched to find ways out of this protracted and serious crisis.

Along with Andrei Baklanov, the round table was attended by Ambassador Sergei IVANOV, a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, and Azhdar KURTOV, a leading expert at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.