The game has changed on the Syrian “chessboard"

Wednesday, 2016-10-05 12:00:59
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A medic holds a dead child after airstrikes on the rebel-held Karam Houmid neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on October 4, 2016. (Credit: Reuters)
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NDO—A year has passed since Russia conducted airstrikes targeting terrorist groups in Syria following a proposal by the government in Damascus. The complexion of the Syrian battlefield has changed with the narrowing of areas controlled by terrorist groups.

The US has cooperated with Russia in the common front against terrorism. However, disagreements between the two sides have threatened to close the door on negotiations on the conflict in Syria, and consequently no comprehensive solution to the problem has yet been found.

The Russian air campaign in Syria has been carried out at a time when the Middle Eastern country is on the brink of disintegration. The Syrian government has called for help from Moscow as Damascus deals with both rebel forces and terrorist organisations such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and the Front for the Conquest of the Levant (formerly known as the Nusra Front), which are taking advantage of the chaotic situation in Syria to seize new territory.

The airstrike campaign against the IS by US-led coalition forces conducted a year previously was ineffective. The IS has turned the country into a “paradise” for the recruitment and training of terrorists and “exported” them to other countries. Syria has become a base for tens of thousands of foreign fighters, a major threat to regional security.

The situation on the ground has changed since Russia began conducting airstrikes to help Syrian government troops retake strategic areas from the hands of the IS. Thousands of targets belonging to terrorist organisations and IS oil facilities have been destroyed while thousands of rebels have been killed, creating humanitarian aid corridors into besieged cities where the worst humanitarian crisis in recent times is taking place.

Russian military support has played an important role in protecting the capital city of Damascus from the advance of terrorist groups. The recent victories in the northern city of Aleppo have consolidated the strong position of the government troops on the Syrian front against terrorism.

However, finding a solution to the Syrian crisis is still difficult, as Russia supports the government in Damascus while the US and Western powers have sided with the opposition. Although the US has repeatedly called for military cooperation with Russia in the fight against a common enemy—terrorism, the conflict between their interests makes it difficult for both sides to find a common voice.

The two sides negotiated with each other and reached an agreement on a ceasefire to be held throughout the country. However, after the week-long ceasefire last September collapsed, rising tensions between the two parties have threatened the process of finding a solution to the conflict. Each side has criticised and blamed the other.

Russia opposes the recent unilateral decision by the US to stop all dialogue with Moscow to restore peace in Syria. Meanwhile, the administration of US President Barack Obama is also under pressure from local lawmakers. Many US lawmakers have urged the White House to implement a Plan B, a military solution to the Syrian conflict amid stalled diplomatic efforts with Russia.

Senior US officials quoted by the Washington Post recently revealed that the US administration was considering providing shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles to rebels in Syria, a move that has caused concern for Russia and other countries. In fact, many of the weapons the US has provided to the Syrian opposition have fallen into the hands of terrorists and will pose an incalculable threat if the decision to grant anti-aircraft weaponry continues to be enforced.

An undeniable fact is that the Russian air campaign has changed the game on the Syrian “chessboard.” However, the key to the Syrian crisis is in the hands of the dominant world powers, and the path to peace in Syria is not likely to be revealed while their interests remain at odds.