Is there a military solution to the Syria crisis? Of course it does – Russian International Affairs Specialist

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It’s very interesting analysis of the Russian involvement into the Syrian War
Is there a military solution to the Syria crisis? Of course it does - Russian International Affairs Specialist

Original written by Dmitriy Yevstavyev and posted on his Facebook page; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

It suddenly occurred to me that I, with my level of education, specialization, and experience, also have a right to say something.

But only once.

1. I have conflicting opinions toward the decision that was made, since it carries may risks. But I feel it’s the best of bat options. The idea that one can limit oneself to “air support” without becoming dragged into land operations is, naturally, a magnificent one, but once you become part of an armed conflict, a logic of a different sort begins to operate. And then you may not be able to remain within the framework of your “brilliant plan.” Incidentally, the Americans had a similar idea in Vietnam, but we know the rest. On the other hand, 1) our side abided by all the formal rules, 2) they waited until it was clear that the government is not collapsing (contrary to the claims of the liberal media), and 3) they extracted the maximum possible political benefit and not only in the Middle East (“Hello Poroshenko!”), which indicates this is not a reactive decision but a well thought-through one.  In other words, not bad.

2. I think our leadership is getting involved in this mess without any special enthusiasm. If there was enthusiasm, we would have gotten involved in July, when the Syrian army was genuinely collapsing. By mid-September that collapse had fully stopped. The Islamists didn’t entirely run out of steam, but lost their impetus. Since the Islamists proved to be not enough to overthrow the government in the Spring, people suddenly started talking about direct intervention. The whole situation outwardly reminded what happened when the West started the direct overthrow of Kaddafy. The situation bogged down, time came for a ground operation…But over there it was enough to use special operations troops. The country has a small and dispersed population. Something like that could not be done in Syria. I think we were very close to a US-Turkish-Israeli intervention in Syria and Lebanon. Very very close. Because having to look at Assad’s face “who’s about to fall” for five years in a row is humiliating for the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Even if his name is Obama. He couldn’t continue losing his face.

3. One shouldn’t forget that we are becoming involved when 1) the Iranians are signing up for the ground operation (apparently in Iraq, but…) after thinking and preparing for a long time and 2) there are now small but resilient groups among the Sunni who have made a strategic choice in favor of Assad and did not betray him, which is a factor that’s being underestimated, and 3) part of the opposition recognized Russia as a legitimate platform for holding talks on the political resolution of the crisis. Which means it’s a rather different situation than many claim it to be.

4. With all my skepticism, I believe that the decision to get involved was very timely. It happened just as our adversaries have experienced their greatest disunity and confusion. They–the US and its groupies–have managed to paint themselves into a corner with their propaganda so effectively that they have no freedom of PUBLIC maneuver. Moreover, the whole “Syria policy” is now thoroughly discredited, especially among the Americans, which means it’s dangerous to engage in adventurism. It’s better to keep quiet and pretend “we are all united” and to clarify united exactly in what later. That’s what has been happening in the last couple of days. Please note the main theme of the official Western commentary: “we are clarifying, establishing cooperation, coordinating.” In other words, the train is at the station, and boarding has begun.

5. Is there a military solution to the Syria crisis? Of course it does. Especially if one is not concerned with controlling territory but rather controlling communications routes and everything that’s related to oil. Look at the map and see how easy that is. Syria is in reality a desert, a coast, and a few dozen road crossings which connect it all. Plus the border with Jordan which indeed is a problem. But here Ramzan Kadyrov’s “friend and brother” King Abdallah made us a pleasant surprise. Overall, the war in Syria is a war of command and control systems. Both sides have comparable firepower, the victory will go to whoever has a more effective command system. Therefore the “understandings” between Obama and Netanyahu greatly improve Assad’s position. That’s what I think.

6. Can Syria become a second Afghanistan? I doubt it. Nothing in Syria’s history suggests that. Nothing. One can feed the conflict from the outside for a long time, but only as long as 1) the militants keep winning (otherwise they’ll go some place safer) and 2) the local socio-economic base (in other words, oil trade) permits it. But I don’t see the internal sources for such a conflict. They were tamped down in 2012 when the “Aleppo Uprising” was suppressed (unless I am mistaken, it was the third or fourth such uprising in post-war Syria). But in both Afghanistan and Vietnam it was the internal sources that prevailed.

7. Of course, they will try to slime us. No matter, they would have tried to slime us anyway. It’s naive to hope they will leave us alone for five-six years. The Americans (as well as the Germans), unlike Russia’s domestic pseudo-opposition, are aware of the actual condition of Russia’s economy, and they can’t allow us to experience 3-5 years of peaceful development without trying to hobble us and imposing an “oil and gas tax”. They realize we are not collapsing, but doing rather the opposite. And they understood it pretty quickly. There are fewer idiots in America than we think. Especially in the government. Therefore they would have inevitably drawn us into something. It could have been on our own territory. What is more they could have forced us (and with ease–we have idiot-patriots in oversupply in Russia, although they call themselves nationalists) to fight over some illusory asset. A fetish, a mirage. The Americans are good at imposing such mirages on others. The “Russian Space”, for example, turned out really well. [SF editor’s comment: It’s author’s attitude] Phenomenally so. A very professional piece of political technology.

8. Syria, on the other hand, is a genuine geopolitical asset for which it is worthwhile to fight, especially if one can’t avoid being drawn into the conflict. In the future it could become a terrific resort destination, and it is a country with long-standing traditions in the light and food processing industry. It’s a good ally. My own experience of interacting with Syrians tells me they are decent people. It’s a good, valuable place, no matter how you look at it. And moreover, it’s hopefully relatively bloodless fighting for us, on someone else’s territory. The most important thing here is that, and you may laugh, we have civilian control over the armed forces. I’m not joking!

9. Although I feel that it won’t be possible to save Syria as Syria anymore. And one shouldn’t try. On the other hand, it is possible to construct a “Greater Levant” and to reinforce the theme of the “changeability of borders” (the Kurds will have to be let go in any event, which will overjoy the Turks…). And, believe me, as soon as this future of “changeable borders” and a new model of organization of the Middle East that is outside the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement (I’m so clever!) is clearly outlined (which is why Assad himself is a valuable asset, because his religious affiliation could make him the leader, since he is equidistant from both major religious factions–Alawites are Shiites like I am a ballerina), we’ll attract the support of some most unexpected people. There is a long-standing need for a “Greater Levant” where one could do business. Well, I’m sure you understand what I’m referring to…

10. In conclusion. Here comes the bad stuff. We will not have peace, not in Syria, not in Russia itself, not in Tajikistan, not in Central Asia (I’m starting to worry about Kazakshtan) as long as one piece is not removed from the Big Chessboard. That piece is Saudi Arabia. Even the Americans themselves would not be totally against it, but they don’t want to do it themselves, they are afraid, and in any event they are no longer in the game…I’m afraid that task could fall to us. And I suspect some really smart people have already figured this out…

J.Hawk’s Note: Dmitriy Yevstafyev, Ph.D., is a Russian international affairs specialist, with particular interest in political and military issues. He is an author or co-author of four books, and is currently employed by the National Research University–Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

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