Bashar Al-Assad’s Romance with Vladimir Putin: Russian strikes ended the ceasefire in Syria

  • +First Russian strikes in the NorthWest of Syria since March
  • +Putin strengthens military and diplomatic alliance with Al-Assad 
  • +Putin positions himself as an arbitrator in the never-ending Syrian War
Source:  Reuters

Why is Bashar Al-Assad in Romance with Vladimir Putin?

Answer: Putin struck again to support Al-Assad against the rebels

The Syrian Civil War was initiated by a democratic revolt protesting the arbitrariness of the Ba’athist regime, against the current President Bashar Al-Assad. Ever since Vladimir Putin has supported the latter by providing him military aid and by directly intervening in Syria through military strikes since 2015. As a member of the UNSC, Russia has strategically and constantly vetoed any proposition brought up by the United States and its allies to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad aiming for democratization of Syria. The movement turned in a few months into an armed insurrection, engulfing Syria, the Middle East and the whole world in one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes since the beginning of the 21st century. After years of foreign intervention and military strikes devastating the country, Putin had entered, in March this year, into negotiations with the Turkish President Erdogan, backing the opposition, for a ceasefire in the Idlib region, the last part of the Syrian territory still held by the rebels. This decision was initiated officially to prevent a further intensification of violence in the region caused, since December 2019, the internal displacement of almost one million civilians and the death of more than 300. However, just one week ago, military strikes in the Idlib region initiated by Russia put an end to a de-escalation of the conflict and proved once again Putin’s infallible support for Al-Assad and his regime.

2) What does Al-Assad want?

Answer: He wants to regain full control of his territory, with Putin’s military help.

The Idlib region, situated in the northwest, consists of the last part of the Syrian territory controlled by rebel forces, and more specifically by Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), previously associated with Al-Qaeda. This rebel group represents Al-Assad’s biggest enemy. Even though as of now Bashar Al-Assad has regained around 70% of its territory, compared to one-fifth in 2015 when Russia first intervened, the Idlib region remains a highly strategic zone where both sides and their allies have engaged in a seemingly never-ending war. The strong alliance between Putin and Al-Assad has been determinant in the war against regime opponents. Indeed, together they have conducted joint attacks that ended to be successful pushing rebel forces away from controlled territories.

What Al-Assad also wants is to be elected again for the upcoming elections in 2021 in a context of strong insecurity by the Covid-19. The crisis is deepening the grave humanitarian situation, in addition to a significantly deteriorating economy. Recently, new wave of protests emerged, nine years after the Syrian Arab Spring.

3) What does Putin want?

Answer: Keep Syria as an ally to expand Russian influence in the region

Vladimir Putin is now a key player in the war in Syria and has recently established himself as its main mediator, especially since the withdrawal of the American troops initiated by Donald Trump.  It is to him that Turkish President Erdogan addressed himself when the negotiation of a ceasefire was necessary. But above all, it is on him that Bashar Al-Assad is counting to prevent the collapse and overthrow of his regime. There are many reasons for his unfailing support. Syria was already an ally to Russia during the Cold War era. As of today, the two presidents that both came to power in 2000 have created a strong and long-lasting relationship. They have mainly been acting against the Western Agenda in the region. Syria represents a strategic spot for Putin in the Middle-East and enables him to expand its presence overseas and asserts its power against the US mainly.

In February this year, some concerns regarding a drift in the alliance were made following several reports relayed by Russian media. Some questions on the corruption of Al-Assad’s regime as well as the scandal surrounding Al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf lead to rumours about a possible fracture among Al-Assad and Putin common policy. Some analysts even suggested a form of impatience from Putin towards Al-Assad’s regime. However, none of these criticisms were approved by President Putin and his government who remain attached to a desire of stability in Syria under Al-Assad’s rule.

What is Putin doing?

Answer: Using his military forces to secure Al-Assad’s victory

Vladimir Putin is now a key player in the war in Syria and has recently established himself as its main mediator, especially since the withdrawal of the American troops initiated by Donald Trump.  It is to him that Turkish President Erdogan addressed himself when the negotiation of a ceasefire was necessary. But above all, it is on him that Bashar Al-Assad is counting to prevent the collapse and overthrow of his regime. There are many reasons for his unfailing support. Syria was already an ally to Russia during the Cold War era. As of today, the two presidents that both came to power in 2000 have created a strong and long-lasting relationship. They have mainly been acting against the Western Agenda in the region. Syria represents a strategic spot for Putin in the Middle-East and enables him to expand its presence overseas and asserts its power against the US mainly.

In February this year, some concerns regarding a drift in the alliance were made following several reports relayed by Russian media. Some questions on the corruption of Al-Assad’s regime as well as the scandal surrounding Al-Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf lead to rumours about a possible fracture among Al-Assad and Putin common policy. Some analysts even suggested a form of impatience from Putin towards Al-Assad’s regime. However, none of these criticisms were approved by President Putin and his government who remain attached to a desire of stability in Syria under Al-Assad’s rule.

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: we all know, it’s definitely not the Syrian Population

Putin’s support for the Syrian Regime is essential for Al-Assad and their long-lasting alliance enabled the latter to recover ground against the ‘rebels’ and regain control over a large part of Syrian territory, which had been lost since the beginning of the war in 2011. Both presidents of Russia and Syria have been fighting opponents of the regime supported by the United States and an international coalition at first. Since Trump became President of the US, though, he has adopted a controversial foreign policy towards Syria (and the Middle East in general). His decision to withdraw American troops from the Northern territory of Syria generated disagreements among his military and Congress in general considering it as a true betrayal of the Kurdish population in Syria. Moreover, it shifted the role of key international players involved in the conflict. Since then, Putin has therefore reinforced his position as an arbitrator in the conflict, leaving him facing essentially Erdogan in the power game that has plunged Syria into a grave humanitarian catastrophe for almost a decade. We can say that Al-Assad is winning thanks to Putin’s support since he has already recovered a large part of his lost territory and since the alliance seems still strong as of today.

However, civilians have unconditionally been suffering from this alliance since the number of civilian deaths is up to 400,000 and a large amount of the Syrian population has been displaced as a consequence to Russian strikes, affecting not only all neighbouring countries including Turkey but also Europe. Amnesty International has even recently blamed Russian and Syrian governments to commit war crimes against Syrian civilians.

Clémence Bouchet

Project Development Intern