Looking at the way things are going, here’s a likely future scenario:
Russia fights on behalf of Assad, splitting opinion in the West.
Russia secures its naval base at Tartus and establishes a few more bases in the region.
Russia looks strong and decisive in the eyes of its people as well as globally, on the backdrop of Western vacillation and indecision.
Russia battles ISIS, winning the favor of all those worried about the rise of a Jihadist group so vicious, even Al-Qaeda denounced it.
The price is Assad’s stay in power. Russia props up a bloody dictator, arguing between the lines that stability in that region is more important than democracy right now. The name of the game is practicality and expediency, whereby the lesser of two evils is opted for.
Russia also gets to position itself in the oil rich basins of the Middle East anew, all the while confounding the rest of the major players. Its involvement is like the ace in the hole that changes the entire game. So far everyone involved has been able to wear multiple hats:
Turkey – against ISIS, against Kurds who are fighting ISIS;
USA – against ISIS, pro-rebels related with ISIS;
Iran – against ISIS, against USA, but working together with the USA on some level against ISIS;
Saudi Arabia – pro-USA, pro-ISIS;
The EU – pro- and against pretty much everything, unable to make up its mind, speaking on favor of human rights without being able to implement a sound policy.)
In other words, a very confusing situation.
Russia is clearly taking full advantage, confounding everyone involved, pitching one against the other, forcing everyone’s hands.
It’s also confounding public opinion by never truly declaring its motives, by keepings its strategy obscure and shifting.
It keeps Western democracies on the back foot.
Last but not least, Russia is poised to keep the influx of refugees out of Syria steady for a time to come, applying indirect and strategic pressure on Europe — and the West in general — through the stream of people seeking to enter it. This pressure will add to the rifts between north and south Europe, east and west, which Russia will exploit through its energy, political, and military sectors.
A destablized Europe is an asset to Russia. It will make it possible for Russia to muscle its way in and around the area.
It’s quite a strategic feat, one that combines hard and soft power to inflict damage on its rivals where it hurts most.
Underestimate its motives at our own risk.
Fact is, the game is changing. Covert wars and asymmetrical warfare are becoming the new norm. This is a case of unchecked authoritarianism v democratic interventionism played on the backdrop of geopolitics, human rights, oil, and, of course, religion.
Always a danger when too many players are involved.
(This piece was written in September 2015. The above edition has been proofed for grammatical errors and clarity, but the content remains almost the same as the original. See below for the original.)
From your infuriatingly foresightful Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
For the Vice News article that inspired this piece, click her: