Many commentators are wondering why Russia has recently redoubled its efforts in supporting the Syrian government. Since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated his unwavering support for President Bashar Al-Assad.
There are a number of reasons for this, some range from lucrative military trade deals to preventing a foreign-aided overthrow of the government, but most importantly it has been to retain the geopolitical status Russia continues to enjoy in the Middle East. Putin sees himself as a peace broker and an essential element in preserving Russia’s status as an “alternative”, non-interventionist nation opposed to Western style diplomacy in the Middle East.
Ironically, this style has not been seen recently. There are reports that on August 12th Senior Russian military advisers were flown in to Latakia, an Alawite stronghold in the coast. Similar sources indicate a Russian military build-up and increase in equipment transfers near Syrian-army bases. On September 3rd, The Times reported a Russian Air Force battalion, BTR-82A, with clips of Russian-commands being spoken on Syrian national television, participating in combat.
So why fuel the fire? The immediate answer is that the Assad’s summer pullback has indicated to Putin that the government is not stable enough to deflect the ISIS offensive. For Putin, ISIS is the ultimate enemy and the importance of destroying the ideology’s appeal is of strategic significance. The increased Russian-born Islamist recruits from the troubled Caucuses regions indicates just that. Putin is intent on breaking the ISIS threat and intends to do so by creating a new anti-ISIS coalition, one that entails a continuation of Assad’s rule. However, unlike previous strategies, Putin is breaking his own rule of vetoing direct third-party involvement in internal affairs. The consequence of this change will only be visible in the long term.