Washington and Lee University politics professor Mark Rush believes that while Russia is a short-term winner in this week's dramatic events regarding Syria's chemical weapons, the Russians now stand to lose in the longer term if they cannot deliver by getting President Bashar al-Assad's regime to turn over its weapons.
Rush, the Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law at W&L, noted that a solution about the chemical weapons will not end the conflict, "but it turns it into a different sort, where certain norms of international law are observed. Skeptics will say that it's a marginal improvement at best. Nevertheless, by stepping in, the Russians have momentarily defused a potentially huge situation."
Rush said that, at the moment, President Obama and America's allies are also winners now that there is a potential diplomatic solution.
"The big winners are the Russians. They come out looking like the true peacekeepers, the quintessential diplomats and the ones who are going to put an end to the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East," said Rush. "The next winners are the president, America in general and the allies, because it wasn't clear what they were going to be able to do to defuse this situation with limited military maneuvers. It was clear, as well, that the president didn't have much in the way of a strong popular or congressional basis on which to act. He has saved face by being able to pull back and say, ‘I'm not going to do anything now’."
But, Rush added, the Russians are taking the risk now and stand to lose if they are unable to exert the influence over Syria and defuse the situation.
"The Russians need to demonstrate, publicly, that they've taken possession of the chemical weapons and attest that they've got them all," Rush said. "If they don't, or if it appears that they don't, it will look as if they don't have any influence over the Assad regime or, worse, they've been duped. The Russians now need to stand and deliver."
The issue of chemical weapons aside, Rush believes the war in Syria is not going to end soon. It is not, he said, the perpetuation of the so-called Arab Spring but is "a radically different conflict.
"What you have in Syria is a full-scale civil war, akin to what we saw in Libya," said Rush. "Syria is such a divided country, with battle lines among several groups, that this conflict could go on for a very long time."