Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Disrupting the Chessboard

| October 2015

Perspectives on the Russian Intervention in Syria

Introduction: 
The Russian Intervention in Syria

In late September 2015 at the request of the Syrian government, dozens of advanced Russian warplanes entered Syrian airspace and began conducting intensive airstrikes against enemy targets. With the support of the Russian Air Force, the Syrian government also launched an offensive ground campaign in conjunction with Hezbollah and Iranian forces to recapture key territories in Hama, Idlib, and Latakia provinces and has more recently set its objectives on regaining Aleppo. Moreover, Iran, Iraq, Russia, and Syria established a joint intelligence center in Baghdad to coordinate military and strategic cooperation across the multiple battlefronts in Syria and Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister has further expressed interest in having the Russians extend their aerial bombardment to Iraq as well.

These striking developments were met with both surprise and condemnation by the United States and its allies. The European Union called for an immediate cessation of Russian airstrikes, with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini calling the Russian intervention a “game changer” in the conflict. Likewise, President Barack Obama, while insisting upon Bashar al-Assad’s removal for any future political settlement, claimed Russia was heading for a “quagmire” in Syria.

Various narratives explaining Russia’s recent decision have emerged which portray Russia alternatively as attempting to re-establish its role as a world empire or as a power-balancer protecting its interests in the Middle East. This publication aims to present different scholarly perspectives and viewpoints on Russian objectives in Syria and the implications it holds for world politics. It does so by gathering the opinions of several experts with different backgrounds and analytic viewpoints from across the world.

Subject of Analysis

Russia’s recent decision to militarily intervene in Syria is a very significant development in the history of the conflict and holds multiple ramifications for international and regional politics. To analyze these potential implications, we asked seven experts from across the world to provide commentaries on the subject. Our contributors are located in Russia, Iran, the Arab world, the EU, and the US. As such, this report provides a unique snapshot of different perspectives that exist on the topic and attempts to bring the views into a dialogue with one another to attain greater insights on the matter.

Specifically, we asked our contributors to respond to the following two questions:

  1. What are Russian objectives for intervening in Syria?;

    and
  2. What are the implications of this decision for the Syrian conflict, as well as regional and international politics more broadly?

The answers we received were of course diverse and reflected different positions on the factors driving the Syrian conflict.



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For Academic Citation: Mohseni, Payam, ed. “Disrupting the Chessboard.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, October 2015.