Leaving Syria ship before it sinks?

assad russian flaBy: Mark N. Katz

As numerous news organizations have reported, Russia has sent two planes so that about 100 of its citizens who want to can leave Syria. Tellingly, the planes were not sent to Damascus where the security situation around the airport has reportedly deteriorated, but to Beirut instead to which the Russians departing Syria traveled by bus.

In its characteristic fashion, the Russian government has denied that this is an evacuation. An unnamed Russian diplomat in Damascus, though, did not rule out the possibility of further flights. Russian naval exercises in the Mediterranean may also be the prelude to a seaborne evacuation from the Syrian coast.

These actions are not the first indication that Moscow expects the Assad regime may fall. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov acknowledged this possibility in December, and President Vladimir Putin himself seemed to distance himself from President Bashar al-Assad a week later. Arranging for the emergency departure of Russian citizens from Syria though, is the most serious indication to date that the Kremlin is preparing for the further weakening or even the downfall of the Assad regime.

These Russian moves, of course, are not ones that the Assad regime can be pleased with. The top leaders as well as officers in its security services, though, may have a strong incentive to protect the Russian exodus in order to secure their own prospects for fleeing to Russia in the event that the regime falls.

After opposing Western calls for al-Assad to leave Syria for so long, Moscow is not going to publicly urge him to do so before it is too late. The very fact that Moscow has begun to organize the departure of its own citizens from Syria though, is a signal that al-Assad still has a window of opportunity to depart.

Moscow has not yet withdrawn its personnel from the Russian embassy in Damascus. If and when it does, this will signal that the Kremlin has determined that the regime really is about to fall. The departure of Russian embassy personnel may also be the last opportunity for al-Assad and his family to leave Damascus with Moscow’s assistance.

The downfall of the Assad regime will present challenges both for neighboring countries and for all the major powers. Because of its ties to the Assad regime the challenges that Moscow faces in Syria after its downfall will be especially difficult.

putin assad, cartoonMoscow will want to keep its naval facilities at the Syrian port of Tartus as well as its economic and trade relations with Syria. Yet while the West may be willing to accommodate Moscow here, it is not clear that a new Syrian government that is resentful over Moscow’s past support for Assad will be.

If the Alawite minority that the Assad regime is based on manages to flee to its heartland on the Syrian coast and establish a mini-state there, Moscow will face some especially difficult choices. That rump regime will be eager to allow Moscow to keep its naval facility at Tartus and continue receiving Russian arms.

If Moscow agrees to do this, however, it will not only have hostile relations with the new Sunni-dominated regime in Damascus that is likely to arise, but also with Sunni-led governments throughout the Arab world.

The new Sunni-dominated government (or just various Sunni forces) may decide to retaliate through attacking Russian personnel in the intra-Syrian conflict that is likely to continue, and perhaps through assisting Sunni Muslim rebels in the North Caucasus and Russia’s other Muslim regions. Yet if Moscow does not back it, this rump Alawite regime may not last long and the new Sunni-dominated Syrian government might expel the Russians anyway.

Moscow did not have to back the Assad regime as much as it has. But because it did, Russian interests in Syria are especially likely to suffer as it continues to crumble. Most unfortunately, it is the Russian citizens now desperately trying to escape from Syria who may suffer most from the consequences of Moscow’s poor choices.

CNN

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia, USA), and is the author of Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press).

  • FreetheME1

    This is a perfect example of more western media crap. When Assad falls and If Assad falls, Blah Blah Blah.
    The reality is Russia has dug their heals in deep and shown full support towards Assad and the Syria people. Assad is stronger now than when this fake revolution started. The money is drying up and these poor low life terrorist dogs are starting to feel all alone. They are being eliminated by the hundreds each day and It is a matter of time before they will be completely wiped out. Almost 2 years of main stream media bulls@@t and in the end the truth will always prevail. So enough with the crap and start communicating some
    truth.

  • FreetheME1

    This is a perfect example of more western media crap. When Assad falls and If Assad falls, Blah Blah Blah.
    The reality is Russia has dug their heals in deep and shown full support towards Assad and the Syria people. Assad is stronger now than when this fake revolution started. The money is drying up and these poor low life terrorist dogs are starting to feel all alone. They are being eliminated by the hundreds each day and It is a matter of time before they will be completely wiped out. Almost 2 years of main stream media bulls@@t and in the end the truth will always prevail. So enough with the crap and start communicating some
    truth.

  • Patience2

    I think Mr. Putin should see that Bashar is offered asylum, and, an audition at the Bolshoi school of dance.

  • Patience2

    I think Mr. Putin should see that Bashar is offered asylum, and, an audition at the Bolshoi school of dance.

  • Sayf al-Sumal

    This is some incredible wishful thinking on the part of these Westerners. Remember how Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Erdogan and Cameron called for Assad to stand down in August 2011? We heard then from them that Assad will fall any minute. He’s still here.

    We heard how the Syrian government was going to collapse within days in July when the FSA attacked Damascus. The rebels died or ran away.

    We heard how Aleppo was going to fall any moment since July. The rebels failed and ended up stealing,looting and destroying the Great Mosque along with the Souk. People of Aleppo hate them.

    We heard how Assad was going to fall any day now in Novemeber when the rebels once again attacked Damascus. Turned out the Syrian Army just withdrew away from the Rif and the rebels are unable to get in. They haven’t even captured the airport like they said they would.

    We heard how Hama was going to fall imminently in December. The rebels control a few villages in the countryside and have been unable to do anything other than launch car bombs at innocent people.

    Everything we hear about Syria is all just propaganda. There is very little truth to it. It’s been 22 months since the start of the crisis and Assad is still here. The majority of the Syrian population live in areas control by his forces. The rebels have failed and they are pissing people off. This is not a government that is collapsing at any minute.

    Look at the defections. When the protests occurred the Military abandoned Mubarak within days. Gaddafi lost entire divisions of his army. His government members and diplomats left him in large numbers.

    What has Assad lost? 1 PM who was very quickly replaced. Tlass who is useless. The Diplomat to Iraq and two Charge D’affaires. In the Syrian Army thousands of men defected at the beginning. The majority of those men however didn’t even join the rebels. They just went home. The Syrian Army is still functioning and it is still the most powerful force in the area.

    These westerners get their information from rebel and activists propaganda. Look at the way they talk about Alawites. The vast majority of Syrians who support Assad are Sunni. The Christians ,the Druze and the Ismails still support him. Aleppo the biggest city in Syria never once rose up and even to this day the majority support Assad. Yet the vast majority of people from Aleppo are Sunni. I don’t know why people keep making predictions and public statements that serve only to embarrass them in the future.

    Oh and for the record the amount of Russians who left Syria were 50. They were Russian women married to Syrian men. There are still thousands of Russians in Syria and the Russian government has made no move to evacuate them.

    • FreetheME1

      A very good and truthful blog. Well said.

  • Sayf al-Sumal

    This is some incredible wishful thinking on the part of these Westerners. Remember how Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Erdogan and Cameron called for Assad to stand down in August 2011? We heard then from them that Assad will fall any minute. He’s still here.

    We heard how the Syrian government was going to collapse within days in July when the FSA attacked Damascus. The rebels died or ran away.

    We heard how Aleppo was going to fall any moment since July. The rebels failed and ended up stealing,looting and destroying the Great Mosque along with the Souk. People of Aleppo hate them.

    We heard how Assad was going to fall any day now in Novemeber when the rebels once again attacked Damascus. Turned out the Syrian Army just withdrew away from the Rif and the rebels are unable to get in. They haven’t even captured the airport like they said they would.

    We heard how Hama was going to fall imminently in December. The rebels control a few villages in the countryside and have been unable to do anything other than launch car bombs at innocent people.

    Everything we hear about Syria is all just propaganda. There is very little truth to it. It’s been 22 months since the start of the crisis and Assad is still here. The majority of the Syrian population live in areas control by his forces. The rebels have failed and they are pissing people off. This is not a government that is collapsing at any minute.

    Look at the defections. When the protests occurred the Military abandoned Mubarak within days. Gaddafi lost entire divisions of his army. His government members and diplomats left him in large numbers.

    What has Assad lost? 1 PM who was very quickly replaced. Tlass who is useless. The Diplomat to Iraq and two Charge D’affaires. In the Syrian Army thousands of men defected at the beginning. The majority of those men however didn’t even join the rebels. They just went home. The Syrian Army is still functioning and it is still the most powerful force in the area.

    These westerners get their information from rebel and activists propaganda. Look at the way they talk about Alawites. The vast majority of Syrians who support Assad are Sunni. The Christians ,the Druze and the Ismails still support him. Aleppo the biggest city in Syria never once rose up and even to this day the majority support Assad. Yet the vast majority of people from Aleppo are Sunni. I don’t know why people keep making predictions and public statements that serve only to embarrass them in the future.

    Oh and for the record the amount of Russians who left Syria were 50. They were Russian women married to Syrian men. There are still thousands of Russians in Syria and the Russian government has made no move to evacuate them.

    • FreetheME1

      A very good and truthful blog. Well said.

  • Patience2

    The ‘Skis’ are probably leaving BEFORE Bashar starts using poison gas.

  • Patience2

    The ‘Skis’ are probably leaving BEFORE Bashar starts using poison gas.

  • wargame1

    In 1936, six Alawi notables sent a memorandum to Leon Blum, head of France’s Popular Front government, expressing their loyalty to France and their concern at negotiations leading to independence in a parliamentary system dominated by the Sunni majority. Among the Six Alawite Notables One of the signatories to this document was Sulayman Al Assad a minor chief of the Kalbya Klan (Banu Kalb or Kalb tribe) the father of Hafez Al Assad The Memorandum includes the following points

    Alawite memorandam to Leon Blum
    “# The Alawite people who have preserved their independence year after year with great zeal and sacrifice are different from the Sunni Muslims They were never subject to the authority of the cities of the interior

    #The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria because in Syria the official religion of the state is Islam and according to Islam the Alawites are considered infidels

    #The granting of Independence to Syria constitutes a good example of of the socialist principles in Syria. (but) as to the presence of a parliament and a constitutional government that does not represent individual freedom. This parliamentary rule is no more than a false appearance without any value. In truth it covers up a regime dominated by religious fanaticism against the minorities. Do French Leaders want the Muslims to have control over the Alawite people in order to throw them into misery?

    #We can sense today how the Muslims in Damascus force the Jews who live among them to sign a document pledging that they will not send provisions to their ill fated brethren in Palestine. The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and the most explicit evidence of the Islamic militancy of the Islamic issue vis a vis those who do not belong to Islam. These good Jews contributed to the Arabs with civilization and peace ,Scattered gold and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force yet the Muslims declare Holy War against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their woman and children despite the presence of England in Palestine and France in Syria . Therefore a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the mandate is abolished and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine . The ultimate goal of the Muslim Arabs.”

  • wargame1

    In 1936, six Alawi notables sent a memorandum to Leon Blum, head of France’s Popular Front government, expressing their loyalty to France and their concern at negotiations leading to independence in a parliamentary system dominated by the Sunni majority. Among the Six Alawite Notables One of the signatories to this document was Sulayman Al Assad a minor chief of the Kalbya Klan (Banu Kalb or Kalb tribe) the father of Hafez Al Assad The Memorandum includes the following points

    Alawite memorandam to Leon Blum
    “# The Alawite people who have preserved their independence year after year with great zeal and sacrifice are different from the Sunni Muslims They were never subject to the authority of the cities of the interior

    #The Alawites refuse to be annexed to Muslim Syria because in Syria the official religion of the state is Islam and according to Islam the Alawites are considered infidels

    #The granting of Independence to Syria constitutes a good example of of the socialist principles in Syria. (but) as to the presence of a parliament and a constitutional government that does not represent individual freedom. This parliamentary rule is no more than a false appearance without any value. In truth it covers up a regime dominated by religious fanaticism against the minorities. Do French Leaders want the Muslims to have control over the Alawite people in order to throw them into misery?

    #We can sense today how the Muslims in Damascus force the Jews who live among them to sign a document pledging that they will not send provisions to their ill fated brethren in Palestine. The condition of the Jews in Palestine is the strongest and the most explicit evidence of the Islamic militancy of the Islamic issue vis a vis those who do not belong to Islam. These good Jews contributed to the Arabs with civilization and peace ,Scattered gold and established prosperity in Palestine without harming anyone or taking anything by force yet the Muslims declare Holy War against them and never hesitated in slaughtering their woman and children despite the presence of England in Palestine and France in Syria . Therefore a dark fate awaits the Jews and other minorities in case the mandate is abolished and Muslim Syria is united with Muslim Palestine . The ultimate goal of the Muslim Arabs.”