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Russian Presence in Syria: A Threat to the Middle East Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

Introduction

The protracted civil war in Syria has drawn the attention of major countries, particularly the United States and Russia. These two world superpowers argue that their intentions are to restore peace in this war-torn nation. However, the military and tactical approaches that Russia applies, say otherwise. One wonders why the Russian government is determined to ensure that the Assad regime remains in power despite the atrocities that it has melted on its people. One of the reasons that President Vladimir Putin’s government cites as the cause for its involvement in this war is to thwart the efforts of homegrown terrorists who have relocated from Russia to Syria1.

Nevertheless, some pundits argue that Russia’s intention is to prevent the international community from investigating its annexation of Ukraine2. If Putin’s goal is to assist the Assad administration to overcome the Islamic State, his government should not be reinforcing its military presence in Syria3. Moreover, Russia must not be forming alliances with Iran and targeting areas that are opposed to Assad’s regime. The Israeli government has occasionally accused Russia of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to spy on its borders. Based on how Moscow conducts itself, it is clear that its primary goal is to safeguard its interests in the region. Its presence in Syria poses an immense threat to the stability of the Middle East.

Stalling Conflicts

Russia is renowned for not identifying lasting solutions to the challenges that affect nations in civil wars. Instead, this country stalls the problems and strives to satisfy its interests before things get worse4. One may argue that Russia’s presence in Syria has helped to minimize tension in the country. However, its conflict resolution strategies are only helpful in freezing the current crisis rather than ending it. Moscow’s intervention facilitated the establishment of a coalition comprising of Iran, Turkey, and Russia that was instrumental in bringing the warring parties to a negotiation table. Putin’s regime has even tried to organize meetings with Syrian opposition groups to encourage them to participate in dialogue with the objective of restoring peace into the country. Supporters of Russian involvement in the Syrian war argue that the United States has failed to mediate disputes in the Middle East5. Therefore, it is time for the region to try Moscow. They do not appreciate that Russia has failed terribly in resolving disputes in Georgia, Crimea, Chechnya, and Ukraine. Instead of negotiating with the aggrieved parties, the Russian government used its powers to enforce skewed resolutions, thus not solving the conflicts.

Russia is using the same strategy to address the challenges that Assad’s regime is facing. It assisted Assad to defeat Islamic State in Aleppo, therefore, making him feel superior. The support from Moscow has resulted in Assad’s regime not seeing the significance of negotiating with the opposition6. It implies that the warring parties are unlikely to ever resolve their disputes amicably. Chances are high that the opposition will reorganize and fight the Assad’s government once Russia withdraws its troops, leading to continued instability in the Middle East. The presence of Russian forces in Syria has helped to curtail the spread of the civil war. However, Moscow has done little to improve the lives of the Syrian population, hence not involving them in the pursuit of lasting solutions to the problems that ail their nation7. Opposition groups cite Russia as the major impediment to the national dialogue in Syria8. They argue that Moscow has not aided in the realization of transitional justice which is critical to resolving conflicts. In other words, Russia is striving to stifle the war in Syria instead of ending it, and this might have devastating repercussions on the country and the Middle East at large in the future.

Clash Between Nations

Russian presence in Syria has contributed to the increased conflicts between the Middle East states like Israel and Iran, therefore, exacerbating instability in the region. In spite of Russia, Turkey, and Iran forming a coalition, the three countries appear to disagree on many issues9. The Russian government is resolute to ensure that Assad retains power because Moscow fears that it might have no influence over his successor. Putin’s government is afraid that Assad’s replacement might be inclined towards Iran and not Turkey, which is its main ally10. Additionally, Russia and Turkey seem to disagree on the latter’s plans for Kurds. Moscow leverages its support for Kurds to negotiate with the Turkish government. Therefore, Moscow is unlikely to yield to Turkey’s demand for Russia to cease supporting Kurdish fighters.

Political analysts argue that Russia’s presence in Syria will result in increased altercations between Israel and Iran. Russia and Israel have enjoyed healthy diplomatic relations for decades. However, a fallout between these two nations is looming because Moscow working with the Iranian government11. Russia cannot operate in Syria without the help of Iranian ground forces, something that Israel is not happy about. The construction of Iranian outposts in Syria has not augured well with Israel12. Currently, Russia is torn between severing its relations with Israel and abandoning the outposts, which are helpful in military operations. One thing that is clear is that the establishment of these military bases has intensified tension between Israel and Iran which could affect the stability of the Middle East13. The installation of Russian air defense systems in Syria has led to Israel losing military control over its hostile neighboring states14. Countries like Iran, Lebanon, and Palestine may take this advantage to provoke Israel. Political analysts warn that Israel is unlikely to continue to exercise restraint against Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, as doing so might be misconstrued for weakness.

Arming Militia Groups

Russia’s primary objective is to stay in Syria for as long as it takes to enable it to pursue its interests in the Middle East. Consequently, this nation is determined to work with any group that might help it to achieve its goals. This is evidenced by Russia’s decision to liaise with terror groups within the region15. Kremlin’s collaboration with Hamas and Hezbollah; two Islamist organizations that have terrorized Israel for decades, reveals the extent that Russia is willing to go to achieve its dreams16. Initially, Putin’s administration regarded the fight against terrorists as the reason it decided to send troops to Syria. However, instead of targeting the members of the Islamic State, it has focused on ensuring that Assad stays in power17. It is imperative to note that Assad’s administration is the reason for the current radicalism in Syria. Therefore, it will be difficult for the Middle East states to stem radicalization with Russia supporting the same regime that has contributed to the rise of terrorist movements. In 2017, a report by the United Nation Security Council accused Assad’s government of using chemical weapons to bomb Khan Sheikhoun18. These findings did not stop Russia from supporting Assad, proving that its presence in Syria has nothing to do with protecting the lives of innocent civilians or fighting extremism. Working with Hamas and Hezbollah gives these groups the power to continue to destabilize the Middle East, as it is difficult for a country like Israel to fight these extremists.

Conclusion

Russia is not in Syria to fight terror groups or to protect the lives of civilians. Instead, it is there to safeguard its interests and assert influence in the Middle East. Political analysts caution that the extended presence of Russian forces in Syria will pose an immense threat to the region. The strategies that Putin’s administration is using to restore normalcy in this country can only aid in freezing the existing conflicts. Moscow’s intention is not to find a lasting solution to the Syrian problem, but to use the prevailing turmoil to affirm its influence in the Middle East. Israel is not happy with the current relationship between Russia and Iran.

The installation of Russian air defense systems in Syria has made it difficult for Israel to limit the operations of Iranian forces. It can no longer target the Iranian bases of operations as a strategy to preempt their threat. There are fears that the current tension between these two nations may degenerate into a full-blown war. Russia has demonstrated its determination to work with any group that will enable it to assert its power in the Middle East. Currently, Putin’s administration appears to be friendly to terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. This relationship poses a significant threat to the Middle East, as these extremist groups are known to cause instability in the region. It will be hard for nations like Israel to contain the activities of these terror organizations.

Bibliography

Blank, Stephen. “Russia’s New Presence in the Middle East.” American Foreign Policy Interests: The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy 37, no. 2 (2015): 69-79. Web.

Borshchevskaya, Anna. Middle East Forum, Web.

Dannreuther, Roland. “Russia and the Arab Spring: Supporting the Counter-Revolution.” Journal of European Integration 37, no. 1 (2015): 77-94. Web.

Fraihat, Ibrahim, and Leonid Issaev. Foreign Policy, Web.

Joobani, Hossein Aghaie, and Mostafa Mousavipour. “Russia, Turkey, and Iran: Moving Towards Strategic Synergy in the Middle East?” Strategic Analysis 39, no. 2 (2015): 141-155. Web.

Kfir, Isaac. The Strategist, Web.

McGarry, Matt. abcNews, Web.

Rich, Ben, and Dara Conduit. “The Impact of Jihadist Foreign Fighters on Indigenous Secular-Nationalist Causes: Contrasting Chechnya and Syria.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38, no. 2 (2015): 113-131. Web.

Souleimanov, Emil Aslan, and Valery Dzutsati. Middle East Policy Council, Web.

Stepanova, Ekaterina. “Russia and Conflicts in the Middle East: Regionalisation and Implications for the West.” The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs 53, no. 4 (2018): 35-57. Web.

Footnotes

  1. Stephen Blank, “Russia’s New Presence in the Middle East,” American Foreign Policy Interests: The Journal of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy 37, no. 2 (2015): 70.
  2. Ben Rich and Dara Conduit, “The Impact of Jihadist Foreign Fighters on Indigenous Secular-Nationalist Cause: Contrasting Chechnya and Syria,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38, no. 2 (2015): 117.
  3. Roland Dannreuther, “Russia and the Arab Spring: Supporting the Counter-Revolution,” Journal of European Integration 37, no. 1 (2015): 81.
  4. Ibrahim Fraihat and Leonid Issaev, “Russia Doesn’t Solve Conflicts, It Silences Them,” Foreign Policy, Web.
  5. Blank, Russia’s New Presence, 73.
  6. Dannreuther, Russia and the Arab Spring, 83.
  7. Rich and Conduit, The Impact of Jihadist Foreign Fighters, 121.
  8. Freight and Issaev, Russia Doesn’t Solve Conflicts.
  9. Hossein Aghaie Joobani and Mostafa Mousavipour, “Russia, Turkey, and Iran: Moving Towards Strategic Synergy in the Middle East?” Strategic Analysis 39, no. 2 (2015): 143.
  10. Joobani and Mousavipour, Russia, Turkey, and Iran, 145.
  11. Isaac Kfir, “Russian Ambitions are Turning Syria into a Potential Battle Zone for Israel and Iran,” The Strategist, Web.
  12. Kfir, Russian Ambitions are Turning Syria.
  13. Matt McGarry, “Israel Under Threat in Shifting Middle East Diplomacy: Analysis,” ABC News, Web.
  14. McGarry, Israel Under Threat.
  15. Emil Aslan Souleimanov and Valery Dzutsati, “Russia’s Syria War: A Strategic Trap?” Middle East Policy Council, Web.
  16. Anna Borshchevskaya, “Russia’s Goals Go Beyond Damascus: Moscow’s Middle East Resurgence,” Middle East Forum, Web.
  17. Ekaterina Stepanova, “Russia and Conflicts in the Middle East: Regionalisation and Implications for the West,” The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs 53, no. 4 (2018): 41.
  18. Borshchevskaya, Russia’s Goals Go Beyond Damascus.
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IvyPanda. "Russian Presence in Syria: A Threat to the Middle East." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/russian-presence-in-syria-a-threat-to-the-middle-east/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Russian Presence in Syria: A Threat to the Middle East." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/russian-presence-in-syria-a-threat-to-the-middle-east/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Russian Presence in Syria: A Threat to the Middle East'. 8 July.

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