Secretary Kerry’s announcement of a peace conference on Syria only ten days ago has been met with a series of remarkable provocations from the Russians: First, they refused to halt the sale of a sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons system to Assad, one which would make the imposition of a no-fly zone more difficult. Second, they expelled an alleged CIA spy from the country, a move most notable for the amount of bluster and indignation that accompanied it.And as the WSJ reports today, the Russian navy, which began a sustained buildup around Syria three months ago, shows no signs of backing down.
“It is a show of force. It’s muscle flexing,” a senior U.S. defense official said of the Russian deployments. “It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests.” […]Moscow’s deployments appeared designed to show that Russia intends to keep Tartus, its only remaining military outpost outside the former Soviet Union, senior U.S. officials said.
While this is not exactly a new provocation like the first two, the Obama administration’s attitude towards the Russian stance is instructive: Let’s give the Russians what they want!
Washington’s interest in the base has likewise grown—not because the U.S. sees it as a threat, but because U.S. officials believe that by assuring Russia that the base will remain under Moscow’s control in a post-Assad Syria, the U.S. has a better chance of convincing Mr. Putin to break with Mr. Assad.
Its worth noting here that some administration officials feel entitled to be making these kinds of decisions for whoever succeeds Assad. Who is the US to speak for the next Syrian government?That aside, making concessions to Russia in the hope of building trust is a terrible strategy. These moves don’t build trust; they rather create a belief in Russia that the US is weak and desperate. Instead of offering concessions as mood enhancers, the best way to negotiate with the Russians is to bargain hard and aggressively, expect them to do the same, and come to the best overall agreement. Everything else is dangerous self-delusion.[Photo of John Kerry courtesy of Getty Images]