After Assad’s surprise visit to Moscow, is Russia Syria’s best chance of reaching a political solution?

Putin and Assad remain the only leaders who can bring a political solution to Syria (Source: Getty)

Kamal Alam, a fellow at RUSI and a military analyst advising the British Army on Syrian affairs, says Yes

It is quite clear that Vladimir Putin has shown decisive leadership – not just in Syria but also in the wider Middle East.

He has outsmarted Nato by forging close ties with Egypt, Algeria and even Saudi Arabia. Russia already has a six decades-long military and economic relationship with Syria. And Nato never had any leverage over this conflict as Syria had zero debt, thanks to a robust economy and finance system.

The Saudis have met with Putin several times over the last few months as they feel uneasy and let down by Nato.

European policy over Syria in particular has been in complete disarray – Nato leaders have not been able to convince the Russians that moderate rebels exist.

Indeed, former US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman general Martin Dempsey recently stated that there were just a few dozen Western-backed rebels on the ground. In the presence of terrorists, Putin and Assad remain the only leaders who can bring a political solution to Syria.

Dr Andrew Foxall, director of the Russian Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society think tank, says No

Such a view is misguided. Beyond making the West look weak, Russia’s goal in Syria is to keep President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Yet Assad is one of the main reasons for the current crisis, and the atrocities committed by his regime are some of the most effective recruiting tools held by IS and other Islamist groups.

As long as Assad stays in power, the raison d'être for these groups remains.

In addition, Russia has thus far shown little inclination to target IS in its bombing campaign in Syria, preferring to hit more moderate rebels (some of which are supported by the US) who pose a political alternative to Assad.

Only by accepting that Assad is part of the problem can Russia help negotiate a political solution. But Assad’s visit to Moscow shows that President Vladimir Putin is intent on shoring up Assad’s position.

Rather than making a political solution more achievable, Russia’s position will likely worsen the Syrian crisis.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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