When Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict late last year, they boasted they would bring an end to the war. And now, peace talks are happening in Geneva; Syrians face uncertainties about their country’s fate while the international community worry if there will be greater instability in the region. While the world panics, Russia is now enjoying a resurge of its power and influence in global politics.
Syria peace talks
Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups are working together to find a common ground. A special UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been appointed to mediate the talks, and it’s not easy to appease both sides.
The outstanding issues are there needs to be a clear-cut decision on how to govern Syria, the release of political detainees, and if Assad should be held responsible for the deaths of thousands of Syrians and the gross human rights abuses. Of course, the current Syrian government is very unlikely to admit such indictments because they would lose power and be tried under the International Criminal Court.
The opposition, however, doesn’t want Assad to be involved in governing the country. The UN wants to continue with Resolution 2254, adopted in December 2015, whereby the Council requests the future of the country will be decided by Syrians. The UN aims to facilitate a safe and fair political process to set up a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”.
Critics are doubtful if these meetings could produce fruitful results because the last one, held in 2014, had failed. Foreign powers also want to have some influence in the talks; Russia and Iran supports a political transition that ensures a regime that backs their interests. Western powers, and other Middle Eastern neighbours like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, doesn’t desire Assad or any of his government to rule the country. And there isn’t a backup plan if the talks blunder – the only option is continuing the war until one side is utterly defeated. It’s difficult to assess whether this year’s peace talks is more hopeful, but the growing power and menace of the Islamic State could potentially unite all parties to extinguish this terrorist group.
While the talks are happening, there are other immediate issues that needs to be addressed. The UN has yet to get permission from the Syrian government to have access to besieged towns like Harasta, Douma and Darayya which are in dire need of aid. Mistura has urged the Syrian people can’t wait any longer:
“In the end, people in Syria don’t need procedure, they need reality and they expect that from us”
Did Russia achieve its goals?
When Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war, western leaders were furious at Moscow because they knew the Russian military is there to reinforce Assad’s troops. Russia has been accused of intentionally attacking rebel forces rather than the Islamic State, and has assisted the regime to reclaim some rebel-held territories. Putin has praised his military for their formidable job in strengthening the Syrian army. The President said he has spent more than $464 million in the Syrian campaign; and even though Moscow has partially withdrawn from Syria they’re prepared to redeploy at any time.
Analysts had argued Moscow’s involvement could turn Syria into another Afghanistan. Military doesn’t guarantee swift victory as it could potentially cause more instability, and more opportunities for terrorists to reap benefits.
But Moscow hasn’t considered these predicaments, because Assad will secure Russian interest in the region. Syria’s Tartus Port holds the Russian Black Feet, which means Russia has a footing in the Mediterranean Sea. Secondly, Moscow doesn’t want Syria to be another US outpost like Turkey, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The Middle East is an important playing field for big powers because they can have substantial control of the region’s rich oil reserves, and access to the trading route between East and West.
The Syrian war is at its fifth anniversary; the devastation has made millions homeless, orphaned, widowed and even emaciated. Ancient cities like Damascus and Palmyra, which stands proud and ambient with historical artefacts and buildings, have fallen victim to war again as it had done so in the past.
The war in Syria has claimed 270,000 lives, and 4.7 million refugees have escaped to neighbouring countries or to Europe. Both government and rebel forces have committed a series of atrocities including torture, imprisonment, rape and cannibalism. And organisations like Save the Children has accused the Syrian regime of using civilians as human shields. The Islamic State has taken advantage of the war-ravaged country by imposing a rule of terror on territories it has taken. Crimes they have committed are public executions, blocking food aid, inhumane torture and rape.
The crisis has forced thousands of desperate refugees marching from Syria to Europe. This catastrophe has brought much predicament for Europe as countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, are unable to provide adequate support for the refugees. These tense times have brought out discontent in European citizens, disunity and even suspicion amongst EU leaders who are accusing each other of shirking responsibility.
If the peace talks successfully end the war, Russia can credit themselves as the ones who have alleviated the European migrant crisis and stabilising the Middle Eastern region. As Moscow is prepared to further assist the Assad government militarily and financially, this sends a clear message that Russia is still a big player in Middle Eastern politics. Additionally, Russia has successfully built-up strong diplomatic relations with other Shiite-led leaders like Iran and Hezbollah – countering Western sphere of influence in the region. In the grander scheme of things, Moscow’s campaign in Syria proves to us that the US can’t enjoy unilateral power and control over global politics because Russia has made a comeback.