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JUNE 2023

What will the military operation in Syria do for Russia?

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What will the military operation in Syria do for Russia?

Original by Dmitriy Yevstafyev published by lenta.ru; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

From the political point of view, Russia’s interests in the Syrian conflict are quite transparent: to stop the spread of instability in one of the key regions of the world which is stimulated by radical Salafism. The short and cynical description might be “with little blood and on foreign territory.” With all the understandable risks of the Syria operation, there is a chance that the core of the new “Islamic internationalism” will be ejected far away from Russia and from the post-Soviet space. Otherwise we will have to deal with the Islamists in Russia itself. Aggressive Salafism is too attractive an instrument to be ignored by forces which have been exerting hard pressure on Russia for the last year and a half.

One of the crucial aspects of the situation is that the Syrian crisis has a military solution. There are four tasks which the Russian military can accomplish. The first is to disrupt the opposition forces’ command system. Naturally, one can’t speak of the opposition having a full-blown “general staff”, but one can discern signs of a unified command system allowing major operations to be carried out.

The second is assisting government forces in restoring control over key logistical nodes, the loss of which significantly contributed to the summer crisis on the front, which in turn nearly led to loss of control over the armed forces. If you look at the map, you see how it can be done. Syria is a desert, coastline, and a few dozen intersections tying it all together. If the intersection is important, so is Palmyra, and not only because of the historic monuments.

The third is to improve the quality of pro-government forces’ staff work, communications, and reconnaissance. The summer problems were to a large extent due to the loss of command and control superiority. The natural consequence of which was confusion and demoralization among the command personnel.

The fourth task is destroying the local sources of militant financing, which are the oil extraction, transport, and trade systems controlled by various formations. One has to systematically uproot the Islamists’ entire economic base which has been created over many years with the participation of Western specialists, among others. That system has serious defenders. In this world, people value oil which can be bought using cash, bypassing banks. It is noteworthy that over the course of last year nobody, not the US and its allies, did anything to interrupt oil extraction.

There is no need for a large-scale ground operation to achieve these objectives. It’s also obvious that some land-based fire support in some places where high-precision weapons have been used, and providing security and defense of facilities used by Russian troops are unavoidable.

The decision to enter the fight against the new wave of radical Islamism in Syria is thoroughly corect. Especially from the point of view of purely geographic understanding of the “war zone.” Or social consequences for the Russian society, as cynically as that might sound.

Although one must look the truth in the eye and understand the have gotten involved in a conflict that will not be over in a month or two. This test is an important test of Russian statehood’s ability to genuinely play a serious geopolitical role. The Crimean situation, after all, was, objectively speaking, so predetermined in political and geopolitical sense that one only needed political will. Syria will require a higher level of foreign policy performance and political “field” technologies which, one should hope, Russia has developed and honed in the process of the endless “peace process” with Ukraine. And of course one must be ready, politically and morally, for possible losses in Syria. That reality must be recognized right from the start.

But on the other hand, everything that’s happening in the Middle East is fully consistent with the plans to “reformat” the region which were actively discussed in the US already in the 1990s under the umbrella term of “Greater Middle East.” The practical implementation of these plans has led to such an increase of Islamic extremism that it can no longer be termed a regional factor but rather a subglobal one. That’s what Russia is trying to fight.

The reformatted Middle East will appear in the next 5-7 years, one way or another. The destabilization impulse was too powerful, the ruling regimes’ support base too weak, US too focused, sparing neither “foes” (Khaddafi and Assad) nor “friends (Mubarak and Ben Ali). In order to understand the global nature of the US intent,  one need only say that even Saudi Arabia is preserved in their plans in a highly truncated format best. Or not preserved at all.

The military operation in Syria gives Russia the ability to directly participate in reformatting the region and defending own interests. Current and future ones. For example, if Russia is able to ensure neutralization of at least the most aggressive opposition formations, then Turkey’s government will likely become more willing to negotiate and discuss proposals on joint pipeline ventures.

Russia’s positions in Iraq will also grow stronger, where Russian firms have significant economic interests. That’s in addition to the enhanced ability to influence the situation on the oil markets.

One must remember that due to the Arab Spring, the region has lost colossal financial resources which fled mainly to the US and Europe. This fleeing capital might become the investment capital to reconstruct the region as a whole and Syria and Lebanon in particular, provided there exist political stability guarantees and the possibility of restoring normal economic activity. With extensive Russian participation.

Russia will very soon face the crucial question not only of destroying the Islamists’ military potential, but also of constructing a new political space. Space where the new Middle East can be formed consistent with Russian political and economic interests. Military force is a sort of an additional trigger launching the political process and “sifting” the opposition, or deliberate exclusion of those who are incapable of conducting a dialogue and are obviously under external direction and are being used to destabilize the region.

There are many regional and external forces interested in stabilizing the region. Ultimately even a partial stabilization of the security situation in the Tigris-Euphrates estuary and ISIL’s transformation from a quasi-state structure into merely another terrorist group will significantly reduce political and economic pressure on the EU. Which, even with the sanctions, remains Russia’s most important economic partner, and Russia is interested in its continued stable economic development.

Moscow has gotten involved in a serious geopolitical game to return on the world scene as a state capable of exercising not only a veto power in a number of regions of the world, but also the deciding voice. As favorable as the current historic moment is to Russia, such maneuvers are never easy. The main thing is to remember that, after the exhilaration of military successes, when the enemy who is not used to waging the war for real has begun to panic, one must lose sight of the political objective for the sake of which the entire maneuver was conceived.

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