Russia should draw lessons from Soviet experience for its Syrian war

Nobody will accept to pay for Russia’s crimes in Syria.
Sunday 02/09/2018
Showing the way. A Russian soldier guides a Syrian woman at the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province, on August 20. 						             (AFP)
Showing the way. A Russian soldier guides a Syrian woman at the Abu Duhur crossing on the eastern edge of Idlib province, on August 20. (AFP)

That Iran refuses to learn from the experience of the Soviet Union couldn’t be less expected. That experience says that you cannot practise imperialism without a strong economy shoring you up. What is less expected is that Russia refuses to learn from the same experience and the causes that led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Russia has been a party to practically every battle in the war that was brought on the Syrian people since the beginning of their revolution in 2011. Russia was instrumental in keeping Bashar Assad in power, especially in the autumn of 2015 after taking over the Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia to prevent opposition forces from liberating the Syrian coast and entering Damascus.

Russia agreed to intervene in Syria only after it had got what it wanted from Assad during a meeting that was very humiliating to him. When the Russian Sukhoi bombers and fighter planes started landing in Hmeimim, it became clear to Assad that the Russian terms and conditions were not negotiable and he had no choice but to bow to them if he wished to save his neck. So he flew to Moscow, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and signed the infamous agreements.

Russia also demanded that Iran accept its terms. Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps preceded Assad in going to Moscow and assured the Russians of Iran’s agreement to everything Russia was doing in Syria.

Three years down the road since that Russian decision to save Assad, without necessarily guaranteeing the future of his regime, what do we find in Syria?

Well, the Islamic State is still alive and kicking in Syria. Its connection to the Syrian regime and to pro-Iranian militias is slowly emerging. It manifested itself after the massacre of the Druze population in Sweida in July.

Despite its size, the Druze community in Syria had refused to be part of the dirty war on the Syrian people. It was wise enough and patriotic enough to stay away from the internal fighting that it knew would spell disaster for its members if they got involved in it.

Like everybody else, Russia must have witnessed the recent visit to Damascus by the Iranian defence minister as well as his consorting in Aleppo with leaders of sectarian militias. Despite the provisions of Russia’s agreement with Israel requiring Iran and its proxy militias to keep well away from southern Syria, including Damascus, Iran sneaked inside the heart of Damascus through the window of Assad.

Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami had talks in Damascus with no less than Assad and Syria’s defence minister as well as the high command of the Syrian Army. The talks concerned a potential Syrian-Iranian defence treaty. Clearly, Tehran aims to keep its forces in Syria and, if Iranian media sources can be trusted, Iran is planning to take part in the reconstruction projects and the rehabilitation of the Syrian Army.

That goes totally against what Russia is trying to accomplish in the Syrian theatre. How would Russia react to that?

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Russia wouldn’t have been able to assist the progress of the pro-Assad forces in southern Syria towards the city of Daraa without Israel’s consent. So, what Russia would do now that Iran has taken it upon itself to rebuild the Syrian Army instead of considering how to sell Assad’s head?

The situation has taken surreal dimensions with Russia inviting other countries, including the United States, to share in the reconstruction of Syria. It was naive of Russia to think that the Americans would invest in rebuilding Syria so Iranian companies would end up managing the reconstruction projects or that the Syrian Army ends up in Iranian hands.

It is an amazing paradox to see the forces that had helped destroy Syria invite the Americans, Europeans and other world powers to pay for the country’s reconstruction. Doesn’t Russia realise there is always a heavy price to practise imperialism?

Nobody will accept to pay for Russia’s crimes in Syria. Germany, for example, made it clear it would not be part of any reconstruction effort in Syria before a political settlement is reached that would guarantee the safe return of Syrian refugees to their homes from which they had been driven out by the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia.

The Soviet Union has been dead for more than 35 years and no official in Moscow seems to have learnt this simple principle: You can have the strongest army in the world and you can make the most sophisticated weapons but if you don’t have the economic strength to back your imperialistic fantasies, you better leave Syria alone.