Afghan village after Soviet attack (Image: nr2.com.ua)
Moscow’s primary goal in Syria is not to support its ally Bashar Assad against all challenges but rather to destabilize the situation in the Middle East, undercutting the influence of the West and boosting its own; and to that end, it will be quite prepared to sacrifice the Syrian dictator, according to Belarusian security analysts.
The Mensk Center for Strategy and Foreign Policy Research has prepared a new report entitled “Looking at Syria One Sees Afghanistan,” an advance copy of which has been obtained and is reviewed today by US-based Russian analyst Kseniya Kirillova for Novy Region-2.
Moscow has chosen to get involved in Syria, the report says, as part of its “multi-goal and many-layered game connected with an increase of its own critical influence on geopolitical processes not only in Syria but also in the Middle East as a whole” – and that region is understood to include Central Asia and Afghanistan as well.
Moscow’s moves “are not connected with unqualified support for Bashar Assad and a war with ISIS toward the latter’s total destruction.” Instead, “Moscow is maintaining contacts with all the sides and forces in the conflict both in Syria itself and also beyond that country’s borders.”
It is “already obvious,” the Belarusian experts say, that “Russia is exerting influence on Bashar Assad with the goal of forcing him” to accept elections, constitutional reform and his eventual exit. When the Russian government has achieved as much as it can from the crisis, they add, “the Kremlin will exit the Syrian crisis in order to destabilize other states.”
The Belarusian security analysts suggest that Russia has three “basic goals” in Syria:
- destabilization of the region to boost the price of oil,
- distracting the West’s attention from Moscow’s actions in Ukraine and Central Asia and to “legitimate its own right to any action in its ‘sphere of influence,’” and
- weakening “to the maximum extent possible” the position of the United States.
“The ‘Islamic State’ does not represent a serious threat to Moscow either in the Middle East or in Central Asia,” they argue. Instead, given Moscow’s ties with many in that group, “Moscow’s relations with ‘the caliphate’ must be recognized as extremely varied and hardly hostile.”
The course of the Russian military campaign in Syria convincingly shows that the Islamic State is benefiting from the actions of the Russian armed forces if anything more than anyone else in the region, including the regime of Bashar Assad.
“In the existing situation,” the report says, “Moscow has obtained a unique chance to play on the mutual contradictions of the key players” and not only advance its interests in the Middle East but create problems for the West in what is a “strategically more important” region for Russia, Central Asia.
There Moscow is taking steps to “destabilize the region with the goal of undermining Chinese influence, provoke more active moves by Beijing, and thus destroy mutual trust between the US and China.” And related to that, Moscow is also working to destabilize Afghanistan by promoting “situational” alliances between parts of the Taliban and ISIS.”
“The destabilization of Afghanistan is needed by Moscow also for the formation of a general unstable milieu in the region and for more focused actions toward Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, the significance of which is difficult to overstate in the context of Chinese-American relations.”
While it is taking all these steps, the Belarusian analysts say, Moscow is continuing to put pressure on Mensk to open a Russian base and to ensure that it retains “the military option of solving the Ukrainian issue.” Taken together, such moves “threaten the existence of the current architecture of international security” and open the door to “’a multi-polar cold war.’”