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Since early 2011, the country of Syria began to experience reforms and overall unrest of Syrian citizens with regards to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The civil war in Syria arose from peaceful protests and soon escalated into a regional conflict involving more and more states (The New Arab). Key events that have led to the increase of disaster in Syria include the Syrian refugee crisis, which has brought with it the involvement of many European states as host countries, and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 was another event that further pushed Syria into crisis.
The need to exterminate terrorist groups in Syria, especially the Islamic State (ISIS) is one of Russia’s main goals after their involvement in Syria. Since the downing of flight 9268 over Egypt, killing all 224 people on board heading to St. Petersburg (Wikipedia), Russia has intensified its airstrikes against ISIS, the group that was allegedly behind the incident (International Business Times). In fact, in December 2015 Putin claimed that fighting ISIS with Nuclear weapons was a possibility but that he hoped such measures would not need to be taken (The National Interest). The fight against ISIS is one of the few points in which both the East and West agree on in terms of what needs to happen in Syria. The terrorist group has targeted both sides and is considered a main issue that contributes to disaster in Syria.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another topic that is tied to the Syrian civil war. As Syria becomes increasingly hostile, the influx of refugees in European countries continues to rise. Can Russia take in refugees from Syria? According to Abu al-Jadayel, a Syrian journalist and Human Rights activist: “In 2015, refugees have to pay between 10,000 and 15,000 rubles just to register with Russia’s Federal Migration Service. The cost for getting temporary asylum increased to as high as 40,000 rubles” (Russia Direct). Aside from that, Russia seems reluctant to take in refugees. “Russia could really do so much more to help those fleeing from Syria – and to alleviate the European burden – but it appears to be reluctant to do so,” (Russia Direct). This is also due to the fact that Syrian refugees have trouble finding shelter in Russia due to the flood of refugees from Ukraine and receiving the status of ‘political refugee’ is difficult in Russia (Russia Direct).
Along with these two events in the timeline of the four year war that continues to rage in Syria, other events such as Russian intervention in the Syrian civil war have created tension between the East and West. In 2015, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin agreed to aid Syria in helping its government regain control and push out terrorists groups as well as groups armed by the United States (The Guardian). Russia’s alliance with al-Assad and the Syrian government was obviously disapproved by Western states and this has led to further disputes such as an ongoing feud between Russia and Turkey after a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey in November 2015. This has led to distrust between Turkey/West and Russia/Syria.
The involvement of Russia in Syria has caused further tension between the East and West and as of now, Russia is especially mistrustful of Turkey’s plans for Syria, and the possible start of a war (Pravda). At this point it can be said that there are two main opinions on the direction in which the crisis in Syria is going. The first is the opinion of the West: Russian involvement in Syria was uncalled for and by agreeing to aid al-Assad’s regime, Russia is acting against the wishes of the West and painting themselves as an enemy. The second opinion belongs to Russia as well as Syria: Turkey is acting violently against Syria and is a large cause of civilian losses as well as continued conflict. Turkey will most likely be the cause of a long standing war (Pravda). These two opinions are important especially when laid side by side as they show how opposite parties with different goals express their concerns about current events in the news. The Syrian crisis is important in International Affairs because it is a clear example of proxy war. What began as a civil war four years ago has turned into a fountain of conflict that has involved major powers and has made it possible for them to take opposing sides on the same issue.
From the opinions of the West, Russia and any supports of al-Assad’s regime are the enemy and need to be contained in order for diplomatic relations to take place in Syria and help return balance to the state. On the other hand, Russia and Syria fear that the West wants to wage a full-blown war against them and that it is Russia’s responsibility as Syria’s ally to exterminate any groups that pose a threat to al-Assad’s regime. Because of this, news sources in Russia tend to have headlines such as “Russia suspects Turkey plotting invasion of Syria” and “Syria: Turkey makes first steps to long-standing war” (Pravda). Many of these articles feature Turkey as a violent party targeting Syria and possibly worsening the conflict. Another common feature to see in Russian news articles is Russia being displayed as a victim of the West’s violent, unnecessary actions. Where the West sees Russian intervention in Syria as a way for Putin to gain power and allies while going against the United States, Russia claims that their motive was to be the ones that “supported Damascus in most critical moments of the civil war” when nobody else would (Pravda). In an article that expresses Russia’s belief that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are planning to go to war against Russia and Syria, the events of the Russian fighter jets that were downed by Turkey in November were brought up: “Ankara has never apologized for shooting down the Russian fighter jet, and no one was punished for the criminal act, in which two Russian military men were killed.” (Pravda). It seems as though since the events that took place between Russia and Turkey, Russia has been holding a grudge against the state and now sees them as the most dangerous enemy. On the other hand, Western articles have claimed that Russia is targeting civilians in Syria rather than their alleged targets: rebel/terrorist groups. According to the Guardian: “Russia is breaching all the norms of war by deliberately targeting rescue workers, schools and hospitals in Syria”. Both sides of the conflict have painted one another as the enemy and violent actor that is the prime reason for the continuation of the conflict.
As far as moving towards solving the current issues regarding Syria, Russia revealed their ‘plan for peace’ to the UN which is for “a constitutional reform process in Syria, lasting 18 months, to be followed by presidential elections” (BBC). However, there is no say as to whether al-Assad will be standing down during the elections. The West believes that without his resignation from power, peace will not be a possibility (BBC). In fact, articles that are neutral in terms of Eastern and Western relations argue that since the focus of the war has shifted from restoring balance and pushing for diplomatic relations in the future, it looks as though Syria has set the stage for large powers to team up against one another and for there to be an ultimate victor. The trading of arms happening across states such as the United States, Russia, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey is leading to further destruction and loss of civilian lives (The Syria Dilemma). For there to be peace, both sides of the conflict need to focus their efforts on removing arms from Syria in an attempt to stop the violence occurring and then proceed from there.
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