Putin’s Syrian zugzwang
Crimea annexation and military aggression in Ukrainian Donbas, according to many experts, have become another attempt of the Russian leader to create the empire within the borders close to those of the USSR. The aggressive foreign policy of Russia has resulted in strong denunciation by the international community and introduction of political and economic sanctions. Putin, in turn, has used this situation to strengthen “call up” mood within the state inculcating the idea of “besieged fortress” in the consciousness of Russians and thus retaining his personal rating as nation leader and defender of the “Russian world.” In the face of worsening internal economic situation and dramatic erosion of living standards of the population, Putin’s Syrian adventure became the logical follow-up of his activities focused on strengthening autocratic hierarchy. However, that is only the one side of situation.
According to many experts, Russia’s involvement into Syrian conflict was preconditioned also by Putin’s aspirations to position himself as an important geopolitical actor and force world leading states to reckon with Russia in order to exchange concessions over Syria for concessions over Ukraine. It is also an attempt to reserve the Bashar Asad’s regime, being the last loyal to Kremlin regime in the Middle East. Furthermore, another significant feature is that Mr. Putin considers maintaining instability in Syria to be advantageous as it is an important region from geopolitical point of view where such powerful states as USA, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel have their own interests. That’s clear — Russia has its economic interests in the region, that is, it seeks to influence the raw hydrocarbon prices having critical impact on the Russian economy and policy.
However, it seems that this time Mr.Putin who is considered to be a good tactician, but a bad strategist, has made a severe error. Supporting Iran and Alawite regime in Syria, Russia opposed itself to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states of the region. Supporting Iran and Hezbollah financed by it, Russia thereby causes Israel’s discontent which considers any assistance to Iran as support to its anti-Israel policy.
Supporting Kurds inhabiting north Syrian territories, bordering with Turkey and who have claimed for their plans to create their own state, where a leading role would be given to Syrian branch of Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Russia confronts with Turkey that has already led to the overt conflict (Turkish air forces crushed down Russian plane). Though today one would think the relations between Moscow and Ankara have improved, their stands over the issue are still diametrically opposed and any radical activities of Kurds, supported by Russia, may result in harsh response by Turkey.
Disposing of limited military forces in the territory of Syria (according to experts, approximately 30–40 planes and 1500 persons of contingent) Russia will not be able to have any significant influence over situation in case of a large-scale conflict, while more powerful political actors may drive it out from the region. At the same time its involvement into the conflict has caused long-term foreign policy problems for Kremlin. It is known that it took a lot of efforts for Kremlin to appease Muslims from Caucasian republics of Russia who practise Sunnism and slightly stabilize internal political situation. Uncovered support of Shiites may now lead to a new turn of tension escalation in Caucasus, a region which has strong links with leading states of Sunni world, in the first place, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Thus, Putin’s attempts to satisfy his own ambitions and restore the image of the super state will result in strained relations with those states of the region which are the important economic partners of Russia, first of all, Turkey and Israel. Therefore, today Russian leader is in a state of zugzwang, where any of his further steps may only deteriorate the situation and he has no workable plans to resolve it.