Russian main reason for war on ISIS is to prevent Assad’s fall: Shireen Hunter

October 7, 2015

TEHRAN - Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, says “Russia’s main reason to take direct military action against ISIS is to prevent the fall of Assad’s regime.”


NATO has called on Russia to end air strikes “on the Syrian opposition and civilians”. However, Moscow says it is targeting ISIS and other terrorist groups’ positions.

U.S.-led allies and Turkey claim Russia is also targeting moderate opponents.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Hunter says since the U.S. has declared that it wants to defeat ISIS, it would have been difficult to refuse Russia’s offer to help in eliminating ISIS’ threat.”

She also argues that Russia fears a fall of Assad “could also threaten Iraq’s and possibly even Iran’s security and bring Islamist extremists closer to Russia’s borders.”

Following is the text the interview:

Q: It appears that the U.S. has given the Kremlin green light to launch airstrikes against ISIS. Why have Russians decided to enter the war against ISIS?

A: I don’t think that the U.S. has given Russia green light. However, since the U.S. has declared that it wants to defeat ISIS, it would have been difficult to refuse Russia’s offer to help in eliminating ISIS’ threat. Russia’s main reason to take direct military action against ISIS is to prevent the fall of Assad’s regime, which is a long term friend of Moscow and the coming to power of a government which most likely would be hostile towards Russia. Also Russia fears that Assad’s fall could also threaten Iraq’s and possibly even Iran’s security and bring Islamist extremists closer to Russia’s borders. In view of Russia’s problems with its own Islamists and the fact that the Taliban are already a threat in Central Asia Russia’s fears are legitimate.

Q: The Pentagon rejected an official request from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria. Considering the differences between Moscow and Washington, is there any possibility of cooperation between them against ISIS?

A: Initially there was somehow that Moscow and Washington might be able to work together against ISIS. However, this hope is less strong now. Russia wants to eliminate all armed opposition to Assad while the West is only concerned about ISIS.

Q: Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq have established a joint intelligence sharing center in Baghdad. Don’t you think that the center is intended to create a kind of balance against the U.S. and its allies in war on ISIS?

A: At present the arrangement among Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq to share intelligence cannot be considered to be a counter-coalition to that of the West, Sunni Arabs and Turkey. However, if a broader arrangement is not made in a relatively near future to decide Syria’s fate, there is a risk that these types of cooperation could change into more solid antagonistic blocks similar to the ones that existed during the Cold War. This development would be damaging to the region and to the World at large.

Q: Considering Russia’s presence in Syria and the arrival of Chinese war ships to Tartus port to join Russian forces in Syria, how do you see the future of the crisis in Syria?

A: The Syrian crisis is rapidly changing from a regional crisis into a fully fledged international dispute. This development either could help resolve the conflict, provided all the parties show willingness to compromise on their demands or it could prolong the crisis and might even extend it beyond Syria. The fact is that the Syrian crisis is not just about Syria and Assad or even about the Middle East. It is about the future character of the international political system. China’s move should be seen as reflecting its competition with both the West and with Russia in the struggle to determine the future of the international system. Both Russia and China seem more willing than in the past to challenge America’s unilateral approach to international problems.