In an abrupt development, the conflict in Syria may have just received a glimmer of hope when the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, announced he ordered the Russian military to start withdrawing from the war-torn state. Putin was adamant that Russia had achieved its goals in Syria and their attention is now turned to finding a resolution to the 5 year old civil war. Russia began its campaign in Syria during September of last year; since that time, the course of the war has turned in favor of the Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad whom is a Russian ally. President Putin decided to enter the Syrian conflict in hopes of taking back territory from Assad’s opposition such as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, along with a series of moderate rebels whom have been backed by the US-led coalition against ISIS. Although Russia’s main presence throughout their involvement in the conflict has been through the air, the Russian military did succeed in claiming territory back for the Assad regime with the help of Assad’s forces on the ground. Despite the significant decision to withdraw his own forces, President Putin still has some questions to answer: Did Russia commit war crimes in Syria and how soon will there be a solution to the civil war? According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian airstrikes killed approximately 4,000 civilians including 300 children (Source). To me, even though there are hardships of war, this absolutely constitutes war crimes by the Russian military. There is no reason why innocent people, especially children, have to die during times of war and Russia must address the war crimes matter eventually. Moreover, Russia has faced increased scrutiny from the international world because of their bombing of multiple hospitals in Syria, which is forbidden under international law. Whether or not Russia will face war crimes is still up for debate, but there is no question the Russian’s airstrike tactics were not completely discriminate.
The more pressing issue, however, is when there will finally be a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Every country wants the civil war in Syria to end, but no one knows how because of the difficult circumstances that come with figuring out a proper solution. President Barrack Obama has regularly asserted Assad is not part of the solution in Syria. Obama sees Assad as the antagonist in the conflict since he supposedly used chemical weapons on his own people before the war started in 2011. On the other hand, as i stated above, Assad is allied with Russia; this makes finding a solution especially hard since the US and Russia have not exactly seen eye to eye on a possible solution. Obama wants Assad to step down and Russia is not sure what to do with its longtime ally. This complicates the matter greatly, but it appears the US and Russia are seriously committed to resolving the conflict as the Kremlin said Obama and Putin “called for an intensification process for a political settlement” (Source).
While Assad may be a roadblock in finding a peaceful resolution, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are bigger actors that may halt the process. We all know about ISIS and the destruction they have carried out in Syria, but many forget there is an Al-Qaeda branch fighting in Syria as well. These extremist groups are not likely to stop fighting for their cause even if Assad is forced to step down. More importantly, it is possible if Assad is forced out of office, Syria would be more fractured than if he stayed on as president. All US citizens know about the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and what that led to in Iraq: a more fractured state. I am aware all cases are different, but I can see this happening in Syria if Assad is removed. Perhaps if Assad is removed, ISIS and Al-Qaeda will become more powerful and influential within the country since there will be no concrete central authority.
The Syrian civil war is one of the most complex situations in recent memory, but it is vital that a resolution is developed sooner rather than later. If this peace process gets dragged out, then that entails more people dying and more people being displaced from their homes. With a war that has already claimed 250,000 lives and displaced half the country’s population (Source), a peaceful resolution must come as soon as possible. There is no question this is a step forward, but I do not see a joint solution between Russia and the US coming anytime soon; a couple matters need to be taken care of before the world sees real progress in Syria.
Contributed by R.A.