Why is Russia in Syria?
It has been reported recently that Russia has been sending military into Syria. According to Russian officials, these individuals spotted inside the country are there to provide relief to Syrians affected by the four year civil conflict in the country. However, one analyzing the situation quickly realized that Russia may have a number of other interests in the country. For one, Russia has been a strong ally to Bashar Al-Assad for years. Thus, continuing to back an ally in a region in which Russia would like some influence in is of no surprise. In addition, Russia has also been a major provider of weapons to not only Al-Assad in Syria, but many other authoritarian regimes in the recent history of the Middle East. Thus, when the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings occurred, this greatly impacted Russia’s arms sales revenue.
But there are also other points to keep in mind. According to a Business Insider article, one of them is actually contrary to Russia’s interest in supporting Al-Assad, this being that they are sending jihadists from Russia into Syria, to shift their activities from inside the country, to one in which they would fight in Syria. Now, as the article notes, this could have potentially troubling ramifications for Al-Assad, given that many fighters are fighting the state.
Before believing that this is in fact a motivating factor, I would need to see evidence that this is actually happening. Russia still does need Al-Assad (although they did allow the possibility of Al-Assad stepping down in 2012). But, as the article mentions, Russia has had trouble with jihadists in areas such as Chechnya and Dagestan. In fact, they have even been willing to support Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his pro-Sufi policies in order to counter Islamists (both violent and non-violent) in the region.
Again, it still seems that Russia is reliant on maintaining their alliance with Al-Assad in Syria, but this argument is interesting to think about, and worth continuing to monitor, particularly, as Julie Loffe argues, if Russia can support both; they may view this strategy as providing multiple ‘victories’ with the situation in Syria.