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After the Iran Deal
Putin Will Have a Say in Syria’s Future

As we noted yesterday, there is mounting evidence of Russian soldiers fighting on the ground in Syria. Nusra Front even posted some photographic evidence (not confirmed to be authentic) of Russian drones and warplanes flying through Syria’s skies.

With this as background, Russian President Vladimir Putin had the following to say:

“We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism,” Putin told journalists on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, saying he had spoken to U.S. President Barack Obama on the matter.

“We are also working with our partners in Syria. In general, the understanding is that this uniting of efforts in fighting terrorism should go in parallel to some political process in Syria itself,” Putin said.

“And the Syrian president agrees with that, all the way down to holding early elections, let’s say, parliamentary ones, establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing,” he said.

Putin went on to admit that Russia was assisting Syrian government forces with weapons and training, but denied that Russian soldiers were participating in combat or that Russia had deployed its air force. He added that it was premature to talk about any overt Russian military action in Syria, though he admitted that “we are considering various options.”

A Russian analyst in Moscow interpreted the announcement as an opening offer in the attempt to find a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis. “It’s a signal that we won’t stick to Assad at all costs, but we consider the most important thing is to preserve Syria as a state,” she said. “Otherwise you risk total chaos.”

The idea that Assad could somehow share power with the opposition is a non-starter for the rebels, and perhaps even more importantly a complete non-starter for the Saudis. The Russians know this, since Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov heard it from the horse’s mouth late last month. Nevertheless, they’re doubling down on the devil they know, at least for now, in a bid to have a seat at the table as the future of the new, post-Iran deal Middle East is hammered out.

Putin is clearly looking ahead. Can the same be said of Washington?

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  • gabrielsyme

    Who gives a blankety-blank about what the Saudis think? They are currently prosecuting a cruel and vicious war in Yemen (with the approval and aid of the Obama regime, natch) that is double-timing it to compete with the 4-year old Syrian conflict for civilian suffering and deaths, and which is serving to empower the most dangerous al-Qaeda branch in the world. Not to mention the fact that the Saudis have been funding the expansion of extremist Islam worldwide for the past two or three generations.

    Syria’s minorities face the very real possibility of genocide if the rebels achieve victory (obviously in the case of ISIS and al-Nusra, but also the so-called moderate rebels – look at their for-local-consumption-rhetoric). Ensuring some representation of the current regime in any Syrian settlement is the only plausible way of safeguarding millions of Syrians from a tide of Sunni hegemony which, in its many various forms, is seeking an Arab world cleansed of the stain of heretics, Jews and crusaders.

    The current Syrian government, while vicious in fighting for its own survival, has at least demonstrated over decades a rare willingness to tolerate religious and ethnic diversity over many decades. Who really wants to bet that the Turks, the Saudis, al-Nusra and the “moderate” Islamist rebels will prove similarly tolerant?

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  • CaliforniaStark

    Actually agree with Putin. It is time for an international effort to resolve the Mideast situation, and it should involve redrawing the existing boundaries of Syria and Iraq established during the colonial era. A Sunni Arab state should be created that includes eastern Syria and western Sunni Iraq; and an independent Kurdistan should be established that includes the Kurdish areas of Iraq and Syria.

  • Episteme

    As Assad’s position, and that of his allies, has weakened over recent months – the news came only today that the last of the government oil fields is now in the hands of ISIS – the question get raised not just whether Syria fully collapses as a de jure state (versus its current de facto statelessness), but whether a group like ISIS or al-Nusra gains Damascus and the symbolic benefits of the historic behind the city; the Observer had a nice piece analyzing that question the other day: http://observer.com/2015/09/how-the-dominoes-will-fall-after-isis-takes-damascus/. Beyond even that matter, it makes a lot of sense for Russia to keep some semirational-actor in Syria, since their economic interests in the region are of a different sort than ours. I’m not discounting that Putin wants to have an outsized voice in how shake out, but he has every reason to not keep waiting for an ideal partner to form.

    You have this morass of proxies in play, threatening to destabilize even more things than they already are (see the migrant crisis brewing for Europe and the continuing destruction of cultural heritage & eruptive trade in black market antiquities). It’s geo-political Jenga, where choosing a side either empowers Iran, inflames the Turks, supports al-Qaeda, or roils debate among the Gulf monarchs, while meanwhile everything continues to burn and three countries (Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon) fall further apart. Looking at the US example in Libya, one honestly can’t fully fault Assad’s reactions (or non-reactions) to any American talk about ending the civil war, and likewise the ongoing dealing with Assad’s sponsors in Tehran complicate any rhetorical calculus (although Iran’s focus on Iraq rather Syria of late, coupled with a weakened Hezbollah’s pullback into Lebanon hasn’t helped Assad’s position any). Therefore, Putin has both the strongest reason for and the most to benefit from seeking to bolster some sort of non-Nusra- or non-ISIS-controlled Syrian state (particularly in light of the failure of the FSA and US-trained fighters and the Turks’ efforts to blocks the Kurds – efforts we’ve done far too light to dissuade given the efficacy of the Kurds against ISIS and others). There’s literally no good answer here, particularly after the past few years and the last few months in particular, but it’s reached the point where Russian involvement might actually be the least-worst option!

    (I actually got to the point a few weeks ago where, as a very pro-Israel guy, I was reading about a Hezbollah defeat by al-Nusra affiliates and grimaced. That’s when I realized how screwed up this Syria situation has gotten: for a moment, I had been rooting for Hezbollah as a bulwark! #facepalm)

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