Under the pretext of attacking ISIS, Russian fighter jets appear to be bombing rebel-held territory in Syria. In addition , Iranian and Russian troops are moving in to bolster the efforts of the Assad regime.
It’s a clever move, both strategically and diplomatically by Russian President Vladimir Putin who appears to be developing a clever line in brinksmanship in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Bishop has taken a conciliatory line pointing out there is no firm evidence to suggest that the Russians are bombing the Syrian rebels. No doubt the Russians will be greatly heartened by this.
The Coalition is now really between a rock and a hard place. Putin’s goal of supporting and strengthening the Assad regime has a clarity of purpose that the US-led Coalition has never had in its aim of degrading ISIS. The tangled web of national and sectarian politics in the region has made it difficult for the coalition to have a clear and achievable objective.
The coalition can now back away from its determination that Assad has to go and find a compromise with the Russians or stick to his guns and work towards a regime change. The problem with this Plan B is that it will mean a confrontation with the Russians.
Now the situation has been made even more complex by the presence of Russian troops on the ground and Russian fighter jets in the air. The potential for a confrontation between the US led coalition forces and the Russians has increased markedly.
Now, Australian political rhetoric is shifting towards the idea that the solution in Syria will always need to be a political one.
Well, it took a long time for that particular penny to drop.
But peace in the region is clearly going to involve having murderous regimes in power (think Saudi Arabia) and Foreign Minister Bishop is now talking about the Assad regime being one of “transition”.
The touching thing about the idea of a transition of government in Syria is that it is underpinned by the idea that it will be possible to have a transition to a government that is better than the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad.
This is probably not the case but almost anything would be better than the current situation in Syria which is currently engulfing all of the region, and a large part of Europe, in a refugee crisis.
The difficulty is that lasting solution to the problem region is really long way off because it will involve provision of a homeland for the Kurds, accommodation of Sunni and Shiite interests in Iraq, similar accommodation of interests in Syria and the withdrawal of Saudi Arabian troops from Yemen.
The conflict between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is symptomatic of problems in the region. This conflict dates back to the collapse and partition of the Ottoman Empire 1925 and carries nearly 100 years baggage with it.
Nonetheless, the move towards an unpalatable political solution to the crisis in Syria is preferable to the carnage that is destroying the nation.
It’s very rare for conflicts like this to be settled in any way other than through a political compromise. One certain way of making sure they are never settled is to maintain the presence of foreign troops fighting in someone else’s homeland.