The Syrian Civil War, a source of consternation for successive American presidential administrations, is seemingly nearing an end.
Throughout, thousands perished most awfully and countless fled, triggering a crisis that continues to fray the ties that bind Europe and feckless leadership in Washington impacted America’s standing on the world stage and caused some to view America as a “paper tiger.”
Now, ISIS is all but beaten. What of Iran? What of Russia’s systemic control of Syria and entrenchment in the Middle East? What are the next steps?
Leaving Russia to its own devices in a unilateral American withdrawal ought not be an option, demonstrated by strategic blunders of the recent past. Iraq will likely not recover from America’s cut and run performance. Syria, unstable and amongst the most treacherous places globally, seems at a crossroads, despite Russian assertions of a thorough reconstruction.
The conflagration, however horrible, was instructive in exposing actors’ egoisms, desires for larger spheres of influence, irredentism and neo-Imperialism has brought to the fore striking alliances not readily seen by even the most adroit observers.
Iran continues its attempts to establish a foothold in Syria with which to attack Israel directly while numerous Iran-affiliated terrorist groups vie for territory, influence and blood. Iran’s own proxy, Hezbollah, the largest and best equipped of the terrorists, awaits orders from Teheran while ruling de facto Lebanon. Only Israeli airstrikes slow Iran’s entrenchment.
Russia’s goals are quite simple on their face. It is the road that is complex and fraught with danger for the United States. Russia actions are, in the short term, toward regional hegemony.
The disconcerting and long-term goals are two-fold — a restoration of power and influence in the world order and on the world stage and as Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated it in absolute terms, a national resurgence in the mold of the Soviet Union and the Tsars before it, with the notion that Russians anywhere belong to Moscow.
In characteristic form, Moscow intends to begin its trajectory toward the recapture of past glory with a grand plan for the complete reconstruction of Bashar al Assad’s Syria — lock, stock and barrel. Disconcertingly, Russia means to provide its proxy, Armenia, with a premier role in the project, leaving ample ground for abundant mischief and bad acts.
The involvement of an economically and politically stranded Armenia portends of decades-old complex relations with Moscow. Armenia’s involvement promises it the same fate as Assad, permanently on the wrong side of the U.S. and Western nations.
But why Armenia? It is exceptionally odd for an economically long-besieged nation to participate in another’s national reconstruction project.
Armenia, a nation of just 2.5 million people, experiences year to year net drops in population and a severe brain drain, as Armenians leave in droves in search of a viable future. Knottily, Armenia’s economy, too, is largely owned by Russian oligarchs, thus earnings are principally had by Russians.
Likely, this is Armenia’s due for mortgaging its future to Moscow for weapons and money mainly used to maintain its illegal hold on Nagorno Karabakh, a region internationally recognized as belonging to Azerbaijan and occupied by Armenia for more than two decades. A frozen conflict, Nagorno Karabakh is documented a part of Russia’s gambit to keep neighbors unstable to reinitiate what was once called by the Soviet Union its “near abroad.”
As a de facto Russian vassal state, Armenia is one of only three nations to recognize Assad, the exceedingly questionable company being Russia and Iran. Extraordinarily, Armenia announced it is sending troops to Syria to serve under Russian command.
Iran, too, uses Armenia in a similar manner and with the same financial benefits to Yerevan. Ever-perturbed that neighbor Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority and Shi’a state yet secular and allied with the West, Iran wishes to wield power over Azerbaijan use it as a buffer. Funny how history repeats itself.
Regardless of predicament, Armenia, vis a vis Syria, is going to find itself in Washington’s cross-hairs. Given recognition of the Assad government and Armenia’s military support for Damascus, John Bolton’s visit to the region takes on extra significance.
Well-funded lobbying groups such as Armenian National Committee of America-ANCA (reportedly Kremlin-funded) wishes Congress to see Armenia as a U.S. ally deserving of the many millions of American tax payer funds each year, whereas the truth is Armenia is an ally of Russia and Iran, and decidedly not an ally of America.
There is some logic to Armenia participating in this costly endeavor, as within Syria, Syrian-Armenians have remained fiercely loyal to Assad throughout the war, battling opposition forces at each turn. In early 2014, the pro-Assad “National Defense Forces” were assisted by 17,000 Armenian volunteers.
Concurrently, in July, the Armenian government sent 94 tons of “humanitarian aid” to Syria. Delivered by Russian military aircraft via the Russian Defense Ministry, it was the fifth-recorded Armenian distribution during the civil war, each collaborative efforts with Moscow.
Notably, a significant cadre of American observers believes these were wholly illegal weapons transfers from Moscow through Yerevan to Damascus.
Despite promises of change following Armenia’s “velvet revolution,” new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan oversees the same pattern of obedience and heavy dependence on Moscow.
His first trip, within days of taking office, was to the Kremlin for a closed-door meeting with Mr. Putin. Weapons transfers (Yerevan borrows funds from Moscow to pay for copious Russian arms) came early in his tenure, announcing the deployment of Russian-built Tor air defense systems.
And, in early September, Pashinyan announced a joint Armenian-Russian project and reconstruction plans for Syria “to help the Armenian community of Aleppo and Syria.” Sadly, the notion of a moribund state of Armenia as a savior in post-war Syria is suspect, at best.
An Armenian lawmaker, Aram Manukyan, put it best, acknowledging that his nation “plays almost no role” in the realm of interstate economic relations regionally.
It is exceeding unlikely that Armenia, a geo-strategically extraneous, economically floundering nation, may conceivably play any role in healing the battered state, Syria. Gloomily, for the people of Armenia, it means a simple matter of supporting Russia’s neo-Imperialistic policies in return for the Kremlin’s generosity on which to live.
More likely, Armenia’s involvement is as a Russian tool to open the region to more Russian dealings and bringing the Arabic-speaking Armenia diaspora in the Middle East under Moscow’s control.