Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
On Jan. 16, 2012, I wrote an article that was published in this paper titled, “Russia, bridesmaid, but, never the bride.” Now, Russia is simply on the road to say to the world, yes, they are here in Syria and they are a military force that the world has to reckon with. Many of the Russian old guard are still swallowing their pride; they never forgot their Soviet Empire breaking down in front of their eyes, as also their helplessness to save it. What is more humiliating was seeing their former allies and former members of the Warsaw Pact joining their former western rival, NATO. In other words, Russia in reality has no allies except shaky states such as Syria. But, many in the Russian old guard were determined to bring back their glory. But, how and at what cost? After the Soviet Union’s breakdown, Russia went into a period of political uncertainties, economic recession and even went through a cycle of violence and coup attempts. Years later, Russia’s credibility was put to the test when Yugoslavia collapsed. And the Russians saw their historical ally, the Serbs being bombarded by the West without even a resolution from the United Nations and the Russians stood by without the ability to help their ally. As a matter of fact, Russian ships in the vicinity of the NATO operation area were not even capable of using high speed manoeuvres due to shortage of fuel and the Russian forces didn’t have any clear and decisive rules of engagement. Now, the Russians are far away from their old international influence. Russia at times was losing an edge in major strategic, economic and political decisions. Even their nuclear facilities were not getting the proper care and many of their old nuclear submarines were becoming a threat to northern European countries such as Sweden due to nuclear leaks in their reactors. So, what is the easiest, safest and cheapest way the Russian can take to be back in the game? When the Arab Spring began in Syria, many analysts expected that there will be swift intervention either from the West to speed up the fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad or a Russian intervention to help their ally to fight any changes in the country. The West under the US leadership stood by and the American administration kept drawing many red lines that Assad was challenged to cross. But, he continued to cross every American red line. There was no American response. The Russians were also hesitant and subsequently they pulled their fleet from their bases in Syria when the US made a serious threat to interfere if Assad used chemical weapons or continued using explosive barrels. Bashar eventually used both chemical and explosive barrels against his people. US still stood by and nothing happened. Now, the Russians are coming. After four years of chaos and civil war in Syria; after hundreds of thousands of Syrians being killed and many more were wounded; after millions of Syrians being displaced; and after a total destruction of the country, the Russians took it as a golden opportunity to get back to the international arena and regaining their lost glory by intervening in Syria. And they are doing it the cheap way. Attack as many targets in Syria and regardless of how many will be dead and injured, Russia knows that no one will pay attention. The Syrians are so wounded, now they don’t feel any pain. But, sure the Russian actions were admired by many people and think that finally, someone is capable of challenging the Americans. In these Russian military operations, it is only the Syrian blood being spilled. To be honest, no matter what reasons are behind the Russian intervention, no one for sure knows about the outcome; or how the Syrians, or the regime will benefit from it. But, at the end, Russia that took the initiative will most likely stand benefitted from the military adventure. The Russians have finally found a way to challenge the Americans, and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be hailed as a decisive world leader. In other words, Russia has nothing to lose, regardless of the outcome. Syria, which remained an ally of Russia has never had any strategic friendship with the West. So for Russians are legitimately on track to come to the aid of their ally. But why now? Ironically, the former Soviet Union never came to the aid of their Arab ally when the US was involved. The Arab world saw this in 1967 when Moscow stood still and again in 2003 when Moscow sent just words of mouth to the Iraqis when it was invaded by the West. Russia intervened in Syria because they saw a broken and fractured country that they can use to regain their lost glory. Russia didn’t come to fight Daesh or any terrorist groups. Russia is there because the West wasn’t there. Russia this time wants to be the bride and not the bridesmaid. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Benefiting from the Vacuum in Syria reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.