Syria’s Decade of War and Russia’s Encouragement of the Ongoing Conflict

Syria’s Decade of War and Russia’s Encouragement of the Ongoing Conflict

As of March 2021, Syria has now been embroiled in civil war for ten years, as both the Syrian interim government and various other rebel factions continue to fight back against Bashar al-Assad and the human rights abuses that have occurred under his presidency. Yet, after an entire decade of war, there still does not appear to be any clear indication of peace in sight. This raises the question as to what has caused the conflict in Syria to last so long, and which state actors or nations might be responsible. 

The civil war in Syria began in March 2011 when President al-Assad responded to the many anti-government protests from the public with mass shootings, killing dozens of civilian protesters throughout the country. From then on, skirmishes and raids between the Syrian military and various oppositions have been dominant in the state and the livelihoods of the population there. The intensity of the war and ever-simmering hostilities is indisputable given that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed throughout the fighting, many of them being civilians. Furthermore, a staggering figure of 55% of the surviving population has felt threatened or vulnerable enough to flee the war-torn country. Even after ten years, the conflict seems to show little sign of declining as new attacks and deaths have been appearing almost every day throughout 2021. 

Russia’s Alliance with al-Assad

One way to explain the ongoing presence of the war is the international support that the Syrian government has received for several years. Russia in particular has been a prominent ally of al-Assad, and their military operations that are conducted in favour of his regime can be seen as a noteworthy factor as to why the fighting in Syria has lasted so long.

A recent example to illustrate this is the exchange of artillery fire in the Idlib region between rebels and the army, the latter of which was supported by the airstrikes of Russian fighter jets. The skirmish in Idlib is far from an isolated incident of recent Russian participation – in fact, Russian airstrikes have been growing more frequent and ruthless within the last few weeks; Russia targeted the Bab al-Hawa region, causing three casualties as reported by US State Department spokesman Ned Price. These signs of Russian support offer a hint as to why the war in Syria has lasted so long. An alliance with one of the world’s strongest superpowers has allowed al-Assad’s government to survive, countering the international support of their enemies, such as Turkey’s alliance with the interim government. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to argue that without the military and political influence of Russia, al-Assad would have fallen from power years ago. 

Moreover, not only are there signs of Russian support against the enemies of al-Assad’s government, there have been new reports of Russian attacks on civilians as well. A particularly prominent example occurred when Russian airstrikes targeted a hospital, killing and injuring almost a dozen innocent people, including a child. From this, it is quite clear that Russian involvement is contributing to the continuation of the war in Syria. Such actions by the Russian military can only prolong the conflict and antagonise those who oppose al-Assad, with whom Russia has been allied for the past several years. It was al-Assad’s violent responses to the citizen protests a decade ago that sparked this endless conflict; with Russia making similar attacks on Syrian civilians on a recurring basis, they can hardly be considered to be doing anything but encouraging further fighting within the state. 

Russia Prospers from the Civil War

Additionally, it is interesting to note that the aforementioned airstrikes from Russia are unlikely to have much, if any, long-term effect on the war at large. There does not appear to be much strategic value from these actions alone to increase the chances of a victory for al-Assad, which therefore suggests there could be a different motive for Russia’s involvement. It has long been suspected that one of Russia’s interests in supporting al-Assad comes from their arms deals and supplying of weapons to the Syrian military, unsurprisingly resulting in a huge profit – in the billions for Vladimir Putin’s government. Whilst this has long been advantageous to Russia, it also effectively promotes the war in Syria, prompting al-Assad and his government to continue their suppression of the people. As long as the Russian military continues to make sales from the supplying of weapons to Syria, they are contributing to al-Assad’s cause and strengthening his position, inevitably drawing out the conflict in Syria.

Arguably, the oppression of Syria by al-Assad may not have lasted as long as it has without Putin’s support, which indicates a distinct possibility, even likelihood that the war in Syria could have ended years ago if not for Russia’s involvement. From the many protests from the Syrian public to the huge numbers of national citizens becoming casualties or refugees of the war, al-Assad has shown himself to be unpopular within his own nation. This suggests that al-Assad has not had enough support in Syria to defeat the rebel forces by himself and his own resources. Given the airstrikes and military operations in Syria over the years, it is apparent that he has remained in power chiefly by force, and a great part of this force was provided by his international allies. This is supported by the claims that these allies have been the key to al-Assad maintaining control of his regime, to the point that he is evidently indebted to Russia and Putin

Nevertheless, it has also not been enough to ensure al-Assad’s complete victory either. Consequently, it could be understood that it is not in Putin’s best interest to allow the war to end, as an end to the fighting would naturally prevent Russia from benefiting from their arms sales with Syria. Prolonging the war for as long as possible seems to be in Putin’s best financial interest. This may explain why, after ten years, the war in Syria continues to persist with no visible end in sight. So long as Russia reaps benefits from the conflict, there are strong motivations for Putin to continue his support for al-Assad, thereby giving rise to the unfortunate possibility of the war enduring for years to come.

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