As Russia and Iran move in more overtly on Syria, it’s important to understand that their objective is not to prop up a weak, dependent Bashar al-Assad. Doing that is a convenience. Assad functions now as a fig leaf for the real objective of his long-time patrons: establishing effective control of the territory of Syria.
The Western media will probably keep saying, by rote, that Russia and Iran are supporting Assad – just as they will keep saying that the U.S. coalition is battling Islamic State. But there’s a reason for the “why this summer; why right now” behind Russia’s seemingly sudden strategic move on Syria. And it’s not the superficial motives being attributed to Russia or Iran.
There are two interlocking catalysts for Russia’s decision to intervene actively, just at this moment. One is the U.S.-Turkey partnership “against ISIS,” which became active in late July, and immediately resulted in Turkey attacking not ISIS, but Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
The point of what Turkey attacked, from the cover of a new coalition with the U.S., is that the targets reflected Turkey’s greatest national concerns. None of this is meant as an indictment of Turkey; that’s a separate issue. This is an analysis. We need to understand that what Turkey is doing is leveraging a coalition with the U.S. to pursue Turkey’s highest priorities.
Indeed, Obama’s America is basically a junior partner in this arrangement, allowed to fly from Turkish territory but subject to a Turkish veto over what we will attack in Syria.
Russia sees the import of that, even if Westerners don’t. So does Iran. And there is no doubt in the strategic minds in Moscow and Tehran that Ankara’s long-term objective is to control the territory of Syria – now that Assad has been decisively weakened, and so much of Syria is either occupied by Sunni radicals, or would fall easily to the mere threat of military power.