Opinion

Syrian chessboard

AVIJIT GOEL | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on April 12, 2017

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Too many players, and too much at stake

The Syrian quagmire never falls short of the two vital constituents to any prolonged Middle Eastern crisis. Blood and Western intervention. The US, under Obama, remarkably and definitively stayed away from this quagmire, inviting scathing criticism from long-term allies such as Saudi, Israel and Turkey, most of who are marking a presence through direct or proxy means.

Two coinciding events, though seeming un-related, unravel the possible future course of action in the Syrian crisis. The Kremlin, for the first time issued a statement saying that Russian assistance to the government of President Bashar Assad in resolving the Syrian crisis is “not unconditional” .Kremlin stressed that the relationship between Russia and Syria is equitable and not hierarchical, adding that Moscow cannot just make Assad follow its orders.

This coincided with the US’s first direct assault on Syria and Trump’s first decisive military step since becoming president. American cruise missiles directed at the Sharyat air base in central Syria seem more like a vital deterrent to future use of chemical weapons by either side. However, the future might be more complicated.

Latest maps show that modern Syria is dead. The fabric of the country has been unthreaded along ethnic lines so surely that any amount of diplomatic, humanitarian or reconciliatory duct tape might not put it together again.

It’s very clear that a country, now controlled partly by the Alawites (of which Assad is the leader), partly by the Kurds, the Turks, and numerous warring militias has no easy or time-bound reason to stabilise. However, some big steps might accentuate a superfluous and uneasy alliance, the only solace of which shall be lesser blood spilling in the short term. One of these big steps could be Assad’s stepping down, as this could calm frayed nerves for the Middle Eastern giants involved through proxies in Syria. And the US’s entry into this quagmire might accentuate it.

Apart from the fact that Assad makes sense for the Shia-Russia axis, he’s become perfect leverage for Russia to use at an opportune time. The fact that Russia wanted a toe hold in the Gulf of Tartus in Syria does not completely explain its continued military action and support for Assad over the last half decade. Putin surely has more in mind. And the “Assad Leverage” now gives it a diplomatic and economic re-integration advantage.

Putin’s mending fences with Turkey’s Erdogan was a strong step in geopolitical appeasement. And dropping Assad now gives it the perfect reason to re-integrate with the European powers and the US. Though Russia’s dropping support for the entire Alawite faction would be unthinkable, another Alawite leader in Assad’s place makes for the ideal reconciliatory solution and line of best fit for Russia and the US.

While dropping Assad would lead to hopes of reconstruction of this battered geography, the reality in the long run might be different. An uneasy geography again clustered into the borders of an unnatural country, tethering on the brink of collapse or a dismemberment along ethnic lines right away — the future of Syria remains uneasy for the foreseeable future-with or without Assad.

The writer heads new country development at Marico. The views are personal

Published on April 12, 2017
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