Russia and Syria

Judy Asks: Should the West work with Russia on Syria?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
16 September 2015

The West has no choice but to work with Russia on Syria. As one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backers and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Moscow will participate in any diplomatic process.

But the West and Russia have irreconcilable objectives. The West has consistently but ineffectually tried to unseat Assad; Russia has propped him up, equally consistently but with more determination.

No doubt on the advice of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad has used Russia’s Chechen gambit: if your main opponents are reasonable men, kill them and replace them with blood-soaked Islamic militants; then tell the world your breed of mass murder is less of a threat than that of the militants. Not only has Assad largely refrained from attacking the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but he has even shared gas revenues with the group. Now Putin’s aid to Syria includes air defenses to threaten the Western-led coalition that is attacking the jihadists.

So is Russia really intending to work with the West to solve the Syrian crisis? Or is it just showing that it will disrupt Western efforts unless bought off—perhaps with sanctions relief or Western acquiescence in keeping Ukraine weak and divided? If the West falls for this trick, it should not be surprised to find even more refugees—Syrian or Ukrainian—on its doorstep soon.

Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.