In that time Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, has been a very harsh leader, especially to his own people. In 2011, protests over the release of minors, who were being held for anti-government graffiti, became deadly after officials open fired on the protestors.
Afterward a civil war began, and chemical weapons were used, though Assad’s administration denied using them and blamed the rebels. Then ISIS came on the scene and, amid all the fighting, innocent civilians have been making an exodus out of the country and into Europe seeking refuge. By some estimates up to half of the nation’s people have been displaced from their homes.
Russia recently stepped in to further shore up the battered Assad regime, as The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen reported: “The Syrian push on the ground is the first time President Assad’s forces have coordinated with the Russian air force in an attempt to seize lost territory from opposition forces, ushering in some of the fiercest fighting in months in the civil war, which has now lasted four and a half years and killed more than a quarter of a million people” (“Syrian Troops Launch Ground Offensive Backed by Russian Airstrikes,” Oct. 7, 2015).
Russia has been slapped with sanctions in the past year since entering Ukraine with troops and annexing the Crimean Peninsula. Russia now claims to be fighting against terrorist groups in Syria. Assad has many enemies within his own borders. This is an opportunity for Vladimir Putin and Russia to gain some allies and further strengthen its footholds in the Middle East. This is merely the latest in a series of actions pitting Russia against the Western NATO alliance.