Fighting may continue for years, but Moscow’s forces have shored up Assad’s hold on the country.
The Russian intervention was the deciding factor of the Syrian Civil War, and Assad is still alive because of it. Following weeks of gains by the Syrian army against ISIS and other rebel groups (backed by Russian air power), the Syrian government can confidently claim it is back on its feet after years of being on the brink of collapse. In just two months, Assad’s forces have doubled the amount of territory they control, and it is unlikely that these developments will be reversed.
It is difficult to say when a true sense of calm will return to Syria. Violence is likely to remain a part of daily life for months, if not years. But the degree of violence will certainly decrease, after a cessation of hostilities begins to take hold. Without ISIS to take the brunt of Russian/Syrian government firepower, other rebel groups may find it much harder to confront government forces. If the rebel groups continue to lose, their sources of funding will dry up.
One of the most pressing questions regarding Syria is what comes next? After the elation of victory subsides, Assad’s supporters will be wondering what exactly it is they won. Much of the country has been destroyed, ethnic and religious tensions will remain, foreign countries have established military bases in the country, and the Kurds will continue to demand increasing autonomy for their region.
Most importantly, it is unclear if Assad will even be capable of ruling the country (or what’s left of it). Leading a country during wartime is one thing, but Assad might not have the same support when Syrians feel safer. He is an unpopular figure for many people in the country, and the government might have a better chance at ruling a stable nation if he is removed from power.
For all the fanfare of how Trump became “Presidential” after he ordered strikes against Syrian jets, it did little to blunt Assad’s ability to wage war (which I have written about here). An LA Times article, which revealed C.I.A.-backed rebels were fighting Pentagon-backed rebels, exemplifies just how erratic the American response to the Syrian Civil War was. Red lines were drawn and then crossed, and the US couldn’t decide if ISIS or Assad was worse. As the U.S. struggled to decide what it wanted to do, Russia committed itself to saving Assad.
Unlike Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014, the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War proved that Russia’s military was more than capable of sustaining an international campaign. While Georgia and Ukraine border Russia, Syria is in the heart of the Middle East. By reversing the direction of the war, Putin was also provided with a significant domestic popularity boost. Russia will get to keep its naval base on the Mediterranean, as well as its new air base in Syria. The reasons for the Russian intervention were multiple (which I have written about here), and ultimately the Kremlin’s gamble seems to have paid off.
Though Assad may escape with his life, Putin will be recognized as the true victor. Meanwhile, everyone else will be wondering why they poured so many resources into a conflict, just so Russia could expand its influence in the Middle East. With the death toll soon to be half a million, hopefully those on all sides will be asking if it was worth it.🔷