Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Ten years of Syrian conflict: The fire is still burning hot

One of the largest protests against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad sparked on March 15, 2011. By that time, the Arab Spring had claimed presidencies of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled Tunisia for 24 years, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 30 years. When the crisis struck Syria, Assad was 45 years old. He had served as President of Syria for eleven years, and many assumed that he would be the next victim of the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring has thrown Syria into what has become the deadliest conflict on planet Earth in the 21st century. To date, the conflict has claimed the lives of as many as 600,000 and displaced millions of people (for comparison, the Iranian-Iraqi war of 1980-1988 claimed the lives of nearly 700,000). The ensuing refugee crisis has led to significant changes both in political and socio-economic spheres of life in the Middle East and the European Union.

Syria has become a territory of open rivalry between world and regional powers. Russia, Iran, Turkey and the United States have deployed their troops on its territory, whereas dozens of other countries are involved in the war through various paramilitary and political groups that they support.

Over ten years, the Syrian conflict has gone through several stages. From 2013 to 2017, Syria saw attempts to build the world's first-ever "caliphate state." while the war on terrorists added more fuel to the fire of the war with the participation of international players.

Ten years of war and bloodshed have turned Syria, one of the most successful states of the region in the past, into a center of gravity for political extremists and international terrorists. Syria has turned into a platform, where different forces - Iranians and Israelis, Turks and Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, Moscow and Washington - can sort out their relationships.

It is difficult to name the precise date, when the war in Syria sparked. It is believed, though, that the conflict started in Damascus on March 15, 2011, when several hundreds of people took to the streets of the capital chanting anti-corruption slogans, demanding Bashar Assad to step down.

  • In 2014, the United States, which led the anti-terrorist coalition, launched military strikes on Syria. 
  • Russia began its anti-terrorist operation in October 2015. In late 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the destruction of terrorists in Syria.
  • The military forces of the Assad government began to restore control over the territory of the country.

Attempts to resolve the Syrian conflict peacefully have not brought any positive results yet. The adoption of the new Constitution of Syria is believed to be one of the aspects of the peaceful settlement of the conflict. The Syrian Constitutional Committee started working on October 30, 2019. However, the next presidential election in Syria will go according to the existing legislation (in late May), because the actual work to write the new fundamental law of Syria has not commenced yet.

By the tenth anniversary of the war, most of the country had returned to Bashar al-Assad's control. Iran and Russia help him maintain the balance.

  • In addition to Latakia, where Russian military facilities are located, Russia controls the Trans-Euphrates and Idlib that the Russian military patrol, including jointly with Turkey.
  • Unlike Russia, which maintains its military presence in Syria under its own flag, Iran prefers to integrate into the Syrian forces.
  • Pro-Turkish forces control large areas in the north, including the area on the border with Turkey. Ankara has held three military operations that have allowed it to create a buffer zone on the border.
  • The border closer to Iraq is the zone of responsibility of the Kurds, who reside their historically but  stood up against Assad during the war. They have the support of the United States that maintains bases in Syria and protects oil fields.
  • Two more zones remain under the control of the armed opposition. Terrorist groups Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and ISIS (both are banned in Russia) maintain their presence in Idlib. In the south-west of Syria (Deraa and Quneitra provinces), several armed opposition groups that have reconciled with the Assad government, also maintain their influence.

It is worthy of note that the United States recognised Syria as a terrorist sponsor in 1979, and Syria has been living under American sanctions ever since December 1979.

Currently, the USA's list of terrorist sponsors includes Cuba, Iran and the DPRK (North Korea). The United States subsequently imposed additional restrictions on Syria, which were tightened after the outbreak of the war in 2011.

Before the outbreak of the war, Syria was one of the richest countries in the region. From 2011 to 2018, Syria's annual GDP fell by almost two-thirds - from $55 to $20 billion. The majority of the Syrian population lives below the poverty line.

How Russia's intervention has changed Syria

In the fall of 2015, Russia conducted a military intervention in the Syrian conflict. At the initiative of Bashar al-Assad, the Russian troops were deployed in the west of the country. Russia's intervention has changed the entire course of the conflict, allowed Assad to stay in power and made Russia one of the main political players in the region.

The active phase of the Russian military operation in Syria continued for 804 days - from September 30, 2015 to December 11, 2017, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. According to him, Russian Aerospace Forces, as a result of numerous attacks, have destroyed more than 133,000 terrorist facilities, including illegal oil refineries, killed 865 terrorist leaders and more than 133,000 militants. In December 2017, President Vladimir Putin, while visiting the Khmeimim airbase, ordered the withdrawal of most of the Russian troops from the country.

According to the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, Russia's losses in Syria since the start of the operation amounted to 112 people as of September 2018. Almost a half of those losses account for the crash of the An-26 transport aircraft (39 people) and the crash of the  Il-20, which was shot down by Syrian air defenses (20 people).

The Russian forces are currently present in the Khmeimim airbase, where the 555th air group is deployed. As of 2018, the group includes 28 combat aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces (seven Su-24M, five Su-25, four Su-30SM, five Su-34, six Su-35 and Su-57) and ten transport and special purpose aircraft (three Il-76MD, two Tu-154M, Il-62, Il-22, A-50U, An-72, An-26) and nine helicopters. The naval logistics center is located in the port of Tartus. In December 2019, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, who oversees the defense industry, said that in the next four years, the Russian administration was planning to invest $500 million in the modernization of the port of Tartus,

Neither the European Union nor the United States have imposed any sectoral sanctions against the Russian Federation due to its participation in the Syrian conflict. Russian companies do not carry out large-scale activities in Syria. However, the sanctions obstruct broader participation of Russian companies in Syria.