Russia- Supports the Assad regime along with Iran, and wants all anti-regime groups extinguished, including IS and similar groups.
Syria under Assad- Quickly losing power over Syria and is backed by Iran and Russia.
ISIS and other militant opposition- Gaining power and becoming increasingly difficult and complicated to defeat. Controls much of Syria.
The US- Interested in the ousting of Assad but also against many anti-regime groups such as IS.
Russian relations with the Assad regime have historically been good for almost 50 years. In the past few years, Russia has supplied Syria with weapons and military advisors, and even has a naval facility within Syria. Iran shares similar interests in supporting the Assad regime. Despite their aid, Assad controls less than a fifth of original Syrian territory, and recently lost support of Hezbollah against the insurgents. Therefore, it’s confusing that Russia has only supplied limited intervention in Syria. The way things are going, the Assad regime will continue to lose power, and Russia will lose a major source of its influence over the Middle East.
After a prolonged absence from the UN General Assembly, Russia has returned to propose an international coalition to save the Assad Regime in Syria. This would require the involvement of Russia in the Syrian civil war, conveniently distracting from the current Ukrainian crisis and making the West look bad. With this proposal, Russia has stolen the power to lay down the Syrian settlement to Russia’s advantage to restore order in the country.
Under the guise of an anti-terrorist crusade, Putin’s real intention is to preserve the Assad regime and putting down all those who challenge it. Therefore, a settlement is key for Russia in order to preserve their interests. However, terrorist groups like IS and Jabhat al-Nusra are not likely to settle after the momentum they have gained so far. They continue to grow by massive numbers, in part thanks to international intervention from Shiite states and supporters such as Iran and Russia. It is not too far-fetched to imagine a temporary alliance amongst the terrorist groups in order to defeat these common enemies.
The Russian army is small and weak when put up against the massive terrorist forces in Syria. Additionally, this intervention, along with Iranian support, will only feed the fire.
The complex nature of this crisis renders things almost impossible to fix, but it is necessary. One could draw parallels between Russia’s Syrian intervention to the US’s Iraqi intervention—minor involvement in a serious crisis, and neither with much success. Furthermore, both countries are dangerously close to outright support of Shia and Iran, and choosing sides in the Sunni-Shia divide could have major consequences.
Despite the US’s lack of support for Assad, they certainly don’t want the insurgents to succeed, which would lead to certain genocide against all those who don’t share their radical Islamist views. Again, this is a complex situation. The only answer is to defeat IS and the other threatening militarized opposition. The only way to do this is a large military intervention—but by who? Surrounding Sunni states have no stakes in intervening, and Russia, Assad, Iran, and Iraq are not powerful enough. Even the US would have to make a massive effort to defeat IS, at the cost of countless lives and funds. There’s limited potential with a proxy war, but similar past efforts in the Middle East have failed.
Even if IS could be defeated, there’s no telling what would rise in its place. It could be another Islamic insurgent group even more powerful. It’s hard to see the end of such a wicked problem.