Will US-Russian chill benefit Assad?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could benefit from the strained relations between the West and Moscow, and the sanctions placed on the latter.

al-monitor A participant holds images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an anti-war protest in Moscow, Sept. 12, 2013.  Photo by REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva.

Topics covered

united states, syria, sanctions, russia, elections, diplomacy

May 1, 2014

Three years ago, the United States and the European nations imposed sanctions on Syrian figures and companies as a means to pressure the regime. However, they failed to prevent it from cracking down on its people. In this context, one ought to draw an analogy between these sanctions and those taken by Washington and Europe against those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, be it people or companies, in order to stop Moscow from dividing Ukraine.

Russia sees Ukraine as its front yard, which in the eyes of many means these efforts will not stop Putin. Meanwhile, diplomatic sources following the situation say that these measures come to prevent Putin from moving forward with the destabilization of Ukraine and not to have him renege on annexing Crimea.

However, observers look at these punitive measures to discern some realities. They want to know whether or not the American administration, by taking these steps and encouraging Europe to follow suit, has made up its mind about sending a public message not only through contacts between the American and Russian presidents. Observers are also waiting to see how strong this message is and whether or not the United States will demonstrate its lack of tolerance toward any challenge to its prestige and foreign policy, which has declined in the region. This is aimed at preventing Russia from further destabilizing the situation in Ukraine as a result of economic restrictions.

This clear and powerful message is likely to echo across the world, including the Middle East, pushing some to reconsider their stances.

Observers talk about the consequences of the disagreement over Ukraine, which might lead to a serious political conflict. This conflict could exacerbate the possible understandings about several issues, or it could stop the escalation and bring life to another Geneva understanding. Things might also turn into another Cold War between the United States and Russia, which could be carried out through proxy wars, as happened in Afghanistan when the United States supported the mujahedeen against the Russian occupation.

The focus is whether things will be complicated regarding Iran’s nuclear program, which has remained so far distanced from the conflict over Ukraine. Similarly, the Syrian situation will also be put on the shelf indefinitely, pending an international and regional consensus, while the war on the ground will drag on.

Therefore, the elections will not have great importance in view of these facts, which indicate that the crisis is ongoing, while Bashar al-Assad remains in power. It should be noted that the Syrian president has benefited from the cold American-Russian relations, which he can use [to his advantage] in this escalating conflict.

This is why observers give importance to any new serious messages that can have impact on the conflict.

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