A US-based analyst has told euronews that Russia’s actions have “reset the chessboard in Syria.”
Dr. Vali Nasr, Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, is a widely-respected Middle East scholar and a commentator on international relations.
He also served as a US State Department advisor during the first Obama administration.
James Franey, euronews: “How would you characterise Obama’s strategy on Syria? Is there one?”
Dr. Vali Nasr: “Well, the American administration has been very reluctant to get directly involved in Syria. Particularly militarily, fearing that is is a slippery slope to war.
“On the diplomatic front, it has remained content with calling for Assad to leave office, but it has not really put its shoulder into coming up with a diplomatic solution that would end the war.
“So in large, the US has a position on Syria but it doesn’t have a strategy for ending the war.”
euronews: “So how do Russia’s recent actions change things on the ground?”
Dr. Vali Nasr: “Russia has taken a much more active role and has been able to step into a vacuum that has been left by the United States.
“But more importantly the Russian action has essentially reset the chessboard in Syria. And it is also going to make it much more difficult for the United States to carry through with its aerial bombing of ISIS positions, with the talk of a no-fly zone, and any other potential actions the United States may have taken down the road vis a vis the Assad regime.
“Because now everybody is really going to be confronting the Russian military and that’s a very different calculation than any of the countries or stakeholders in Syria had to confront before.”
euronews: “So if you were advising President Obama today, what would you be saying to him?”
Dr. Vali Nasr: “Previously this was really about a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. And that meant neither side was willing to compromise because it saw the outcome in Syria as basically a verdict on the competition as to which one of them was going to win.
“Now both for Iran and Saudi Arabia, the game has changed, especially for the Saudis. They are not confronting Iran anymore. They are confronting Russia. And the same with Turkey, which also had a disagreement with Iran over Assad. They are not confronting Iran either.
“Syria was at an impasse before. There was no easy diplomatic way forward. Everybody was dug into their position. Russia has changed the dynamic. The key question for President Obama is to see whether there is an opportunity for the United States to be able to do what it couldn’t do before.”
euronews: “But I guess the question is really… how much of a change is there? At the end of the day, the end game for Russia will always be President Assad.”
Dr. Vali Nasr: “Of course, Russia’s dog in this fight is Assad. Their reputation is connected to saving Assad. Their strategic interest is connected to saving Assad. But in the end, in every conflict, the protagonists have cynical motivations for why they are doing the fighting.
“For the Iranians, it was about their reputation and the protection of Hezbollah. For the Saudis, it was defeating Iran and humiliating it in Syria. So everybody has cynical motivations here and whoever wins in Syria will obviously be much more emboldened one way or the other.
“But as was the case also with the Balkans, there is a benefit in ending the conflict. There is a benefit for Europe because they would end the refugee crisis. There would be a benefit for countries in the region because the continuation of the war will be even more destabilising.”