Bashar al-Assad’s victory in the Syrian elections indicates that the Syrian government is now clearly in a much stronger position than it was just six months ago. Yet will it bring more stability to the country?
People hold portraits of Syrian President Bashar Assad outside a polling station in Damascus on June 3, 2014. Meanwhile, Syria's opposition activists described the presidential election as a "blood election", with Syria's civil war in full swing. Photo: AP
Despite the civil war and economic problems, elections have been held in Syria. On June 3, Syrian citizens went to the polls to elect their president, and there is little doubt that this will once again be Bashar al-Assad. These elections are likely to lead to positive consequences: The reigning leader may have strengthened his legitimacy and can now begin the process of pacification in the country, which is tired of the conflict that started in March 2011.
The military campaign has also been relatively successful in recent days. After the battle of Al-Qusayr, the situation has been slowly but surely moving in favor of the Syrian government’s army. Recent developments in the Kalamun Gorge, the capitulation in Homs and other setbacks suffered by the armed opposition show that the disparity in strength between the two forces. Syrian authorities are making military gains, forcing out uncompromising militants and creating the conditions for internal political dialogue to begin.
However, all of this was made possible thanks to several factors. First, Russia prevented a repeat of the military intervention scenario that was previously played out in Libya. In the autumn of 2013, the U.S. was ready to launch a military strike, which would have seriously complicated the position of the Syrian government. However, a successful initiative on chemical weapons, which was a real triumph for Russian diplomacy, resulted in Washington being obliged to abandon its planned attack on Syria. Moscow also continued to provide military assistance to Damascus, fulfilling Russia’s obligations under previously concluded contracts.
However, in connection with the recent events in Ukraine, Russian-American cooperation on Syria is on the verge of collapsing. The United States has announced plans to supply arms to the rebels. However now, in military terms, government troops are feeling much more confident. If Washington does not undertake direct military intervention (and today, after Damascus has agreed to give up its chemical weapons, such an intervention would be very difficult to justify), then the regime of Bashar al-Assad will survive.
In general, the protracted political crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent coup have significantly diverted the attention of the U.S. and its allies from events in Syria. And Assad was wise to take advantage of this pause. Now, judging by the way events are developing in Ukraine, Washington will have trouble “remembering” its plans in Syria, and the Syrian president will have carte blanche to resolve the situation in his country.
Finally, today Assad enjoys considerable public support, while sympathy for the opposition, tarred by their involvement in resonant war crimes, keeps falling. He is seen by Syrians as the only leader on the national scale, with no alternatives in sight.
In addition, serious problems also arose with the financing of the opposition. One of the reasons for the recent government successes is that the rebels have lost their chief sponsors. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which before had actively supported the war against the Syrian government, now, for various reasons, have withdrawn their assistance. Finally, the coming to power in Egypt of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has led to the largest Arab state to revise its previously unfriendly policy towards Damascus.
Assad’s victory in the elections and a shift in the course of the civil war in favor of government forces might give reasons to hope that the situation in Syria can gradually improve. Most likely, the United States will not recognize the results of the elections in Syria. Russia, to the contrary, will likely recognize them.
However, this will not change anything, because the Syrian government is now clearly in a much stronger position than it was just six months ago. Thus, the main consequences of the elections in Syria will be the relative stabilization of the situation in the country and the emergence of new opportunities to achieve a full de-escalation of the civil war.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.