Une of Vladimir Putin’s little-known assets lies in his ability to deploy the same offensive strategy in theaters that Western decision-makers continue to treat in too differentiated a manner. The reluctance is still strong to admit that the American retreat of 2013, after the chemical bombardments of Damascus, convinced the Russian president that the annexation of Crimea, a few months later, would in fact arouse little reaction.
Today, even though the parallel is striking between the victorious siege of Mariupol and that of Aleppo in 2016, few operational lessons have been learned from the trivialization in Ukraine of weapons and techniques tested during the Syrian war. . Yet it is in the Middle East or on the African continent that the Kremlin could regain the initiative if it does not manage to break Ukrainian resistance.
- The risks in the Middle East
Moscow’s unconditional support for Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, with direct intervention by the Russian army from 2015, enabled the Kremlin to consolidate its hold on the Tartous maritime base and obtain extraterritoriality privileges for its new airbase in Latakia.
Classical reasoning would therefore lead to anticipating possible Russian attacks from such military establishments, both located on the Mediterranean coast. It is nevertheless in a much less conventional way that Russia can exert from Syria a blackmail of a frightening effectiveness on Israel as well as on Turkey.
The southern pillar of NATO that the latter country constitutes is indeed at the mercy of a resumption of hostilities on its most exposed border with Syria, around the Idlib pocket, the last redoubt of the anti- Asad. Three million people, mostly displaced, live there under the rule of a Salafist group, from the Syrian branch of Al-Qaida, which has eliminated the more moderate factions and severely controls civil society. Russian propaganda would thus have no trouble justifying a possible offensive through the “fight against terrorism”, while the assault on this enclave would inevitably lead to massive waves of refugees towards Turkish territory. At a time when President Erdogan is on the contrary advocating the repatriation of at least part of the more than three million Syrian refugees on his soil, the threat of a reverse flow is taken very seriously in Ankara.
Russia’s dominant position in Syria is also one of the explanations for Israel’s low profile vis-à-vis Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin, failing to curb Iranian interventionism in Syria, indeed tolerates the raids regularly carried out by Israel against the positions of militias linked to Tehran in this country. The Jewish state is thus working to prevent a hostile establishment from taking root at the foot of the Syrian Golan, annexed by Israel, which would dangerously complete the Hezbollah system in Lebanon. It would be enough for Moscow to change its posture for Israel’s northern border to become vulnerable again. The levers of Russian power in Syria therefore offer it a not insignificant hold on Israel as well as on Turkey.
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