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ANURADHA CHENOY | 4 OCTOBER, 2015

Why Has Putin Stepped Into Syria?

Putin: focus should be to fight IS not removing Assad


NEW DELHI: Russian President Vladimir Putin submitted two proposals for West Asia to world leaders in the United Nations General Assembly.. One that the Regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is legitimate. And hence all decisions on Syria should be addressed to him. Second, that the Islamic State is a common and primary enemy and Russia would join forces with anyone who shares this view.

What Putin is saying in other words, is that legitimate regimes should not be overthrown for the sake of vested interests and that the only fight against the IS can be a collective one. Further the two issues are interlinked. With this Putin indicated that whoever was not part of this collective struggle was not really interested in fighting terrorism.

Putin has moreover taken his own warnings seriously and has carried out air strikes without forces on the ground. The Russian position is that they are in Syria in compliance with international law to fight terrorism in the form of the IS. For this they believe an alliance with Assad is important, as that is the official and legitimate regime. Moreover, Russian forces are coordinating with Iran and Iraq as well.

Putin has domestic opinion, the Church and Caucasian leadership behind him. The Russian Security Council has completely supported Putin’s positions because of a number of reasons:

1. that the IS links up with Russia’s local separatists and terrorists in the Caucasus.

2. about 2,000 Russian citizens from the Caucasus are currently fighting for and with the IS. This region is active ground for further recruitment.

3. Syria is a traditional ally of the Russians just as it was of the Soviet Union. Russia has invested huge amounts in Syria, and Syria was a market for Russian military equipment.

4. Russia knows that if the Assad regime falls, Iran will be a target, and the wars in West Asia will continue over decades strengthening all types of terrorists.

5. Russian security and economy is jeopardized by these wars and the aggressive behavior of the U.S. And NATO.

Putin’s proposals have put analysts into a spin. The analysis includes a number of theories. Some have said that Putin has said this to divert the world from Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Others are saying that Putin is saying this to strengthen his position in domestic politics. Some are arguing that it is a ploy by Putin to get sanctions on Russia removed. The other theory is that since Russia has its own problems with terror fighters in the Caucasus it is in Russia’s interest to fight the IS and Russia would gain from the IS defeat. Yet others are talking of Putins body language, the missed handshake with Obama, whose speech had more listeners, and of course, Russian national interest was to control the ‘Middle East’.

The reality is that even if all these surmises sare true, it does not take away from what Putin is saying. The Syrian crisis, the wars in West Asia and the rise of the IS are linked. The longer the conflict continues, the more the IS will grow. The more the conflict will spill over to regions around, the more Islamaphobia will grow, along with sectarian ideologies. The world, especially the Western powers need to recognize this as urgently as possible.

The truth is Putin was saying it exactly how it is. Despite the West’s penchant for regime change on grounds of humanitarian intervention, the Syrian regime has held even four years of a full military onslaught This has resulted in deaths, tragedies, displacements, refugees,and all the horrors of war. But Assad is in place as the Syrian State under him has not collapsed. What has grown meanwhile is the horrific Islamic State with its cruelties and threats of real expansion in the region.

The link with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and now IS is clear to Putin. It is a major threat to the region. Russia now is not a great power, but it is definitely a regional one. Syria’s case is a test case. Those who talk of the threats from fundamentalism, terrorism and sectarianism must know that President Putin’s proposals are the most valid ones for a return to peace. Otherwise the never ending war against terror will continue, destroying a region and creating terror.

(Professor Anuradha Chenoy is the Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is an expert on Russia)

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