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?