When assessing the effects of the Russia–Ukraine war on Syria, it is first necessary to mention that the former is the military ally with the single greatest impact on the course of the conflict. Russia seeks to maintain not only its influence in Syria but also its diplomatic and military ambitions in the Middle East, taking advantage of the withdrawal of American troops in 2019, which greenlit the way for Turkey to penetrate deep into Syrian territory and capture large swaths of land along its border.
Russia saw further opportunity to expand its influence in Syria following U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to Merissa Khurma, director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was an audible message to Arab countries, and the Middle East in general, to put their eggs in different baskets, including Russia’s. She described the American move as a slow withdrawal from the region.
Syria is also enthusiastic to show that choosing Russia was the best decision. Last March, it voted against a United Nations resolution condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The country also recognized the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic—declared independent by Russia—on June 29, 2022. The regions were annexed by Russia on September 30, 2022, though they are not recognized internationally.
The Damascus regime is well aware that a strong Russian presence remains a crucial player in its desired outcome in Syria. This presence encompasses a strong Russian military, namely with bases in Hmeimim and the Tartus port, a Russian naval facility, a strong Russian economy, as well as phosphate contracts and other economic incursions. Russia also uses its Security Council veto power for the benefit of its ally. [Continue reading…]