Russia’s role in the Syrian Civil War

The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 when pro-democracy protests erupted as part of the Arab Spring movement, a series of demonstrations against authoritarian governments in the Middle East. Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite Shi’a Muslim, but the majority of his country is Sunni Muslim. Al-Assad allocated power in government to the Alawites, a minority religious offshoot of Shi’a Islam, which enraged Syrian Sunnis. This religious separation, along with multiple other issues, led to an uprising in Syria and the start of an extreme civil war.

What side is Russia on?

Russia and Syria’s autocratic government have had a strong alliance for decades, beginning with Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad. Hafez established a relationship with Russia whereby the Eurasian country would provide Syria with weapons. In addition to these lucrative contracts, the war in Syria also enables the Russian military to garner combat experience. Because of these reasons, Russia has been active in supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad and assisting it with the means to crush its opposition. In Russian eyes, this involvement will aid Russia in increasing its footprint in foreign affairs.

Effect of Russia’s involvement

Many believe that Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict caused other countries to get involved – countries like the United States, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The increased global involvement lead to a drawn-out conflict – for eight years, various sides have fired at each other in the Middle Eastern country. The war may soon be coming to an end in favor of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but that success would not have been possible without the help and support of Russia. In the name of targeting terrorists like the Islamic State, Russia has carried out multiple airstrikes killing innocent civilians and rebels, assisting Assad in crushing his rebel opposition.

Russia’s recent actions in Syria

Russia’s most recent round of airstrikes and operations in support of the Syrian regime may help put an end to the opposition against Assad. In September 2018, Russia carried out airstrikes in the rebel-held Idlib province. The fall of this province, the last rebel stronghold in the country, will obliterate the armed opposition to Assad. Russia has deployed over a dozen navy warships near the Syrian coast following Idlib attacks. Russia has also found ways to continue to supply Assad’s regime. When an Israeli airstrike downed a Russian plane, killing over a dozen Russians, in September 2018, Russia armed Syria with S-300 anti-aircraft systems, another tool with which the Assad regime can brutalize its people. In November 2018, the United States accused Russia of blocking aid to Rukban camp, a Syrian refugee camp described by the United Nations as in a “desperate” situation – Russia relented to aid two days later.

The predicted outcome

Although the Syrian Civil War is most likely far from over, with Russia’s assistance of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Syrian government has been able to gain back control of many key areas in Syria. Russia’s role in ensuring the regime’s success in this large conflict has strengthened the country’s claim to being a world superpower. If Russia continues to provide Syria with advanced weaponry, carry out forceful airstrikes on rebel-held locations and hospitals, and block aid to refugees, Assad’s regime will most likely be successful in taking back control of Syria. The opposition may still be fighting in Syria, but so long as Assad’s regime is backed by one of the most powerful nations in the world, hope for a rebel victory is in scarce supply. If other foreign nations don’t directly back the rebel groups, Syria will most likely fall back into Bashar al-Assad’s power, with Russian help.

The United States in Syria

On December 19, 2018, President Trump ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria. Trump said the United States had successfully defeated the Islamic State, the goal American troops had set out to accomplish in the first place. Many officials and experts fear that this order was too sudden and unexpected, dismantling the U.S. alliance with the Kurds and hurting that ethnic group’s tenuous position in Syria. As a result of Trump’s erratic decision, two senior officials in Trump’s administration stepped down from their position, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. It is too early to tell whether the withdrawal of American troops will be significant or not, but it was certainly a surprise to many.

Author: Jessica Lobaccaro

Jessica Lobaccaro is a staff writer at The Compass.