The Mess in the Middle East
Russia Leads in Syria as U.S. Falters

Russia is forging ahead in trying to broker a deal in Syria, as Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has said that his government has invited members of the regime and of the Syrian opposition to meet in Moscow next week. Moreover, this Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with UN Syria Representative Staffan de Mistura in Moscow, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Russia has also reportedly shipped 100,000 tons of wheat to the Syrian regime, and perhaps as much as 120,000. Western sanctions do not prohibit the import of foodstuffs, but do impose restrictions on the financing of grain sales.

Meanwhile, the coalition of U.S.-backed ground forces in Syria is not much an alliance—and not much of a force either, as front-line interviews by the New York Times make clear. One Arab commander said his forces were struggling to fight ISIS with “simple means”, and needed everything from more ammunition to more U.S. airstrikes. Most of the coalition’s power comes from the Kurdish forces, with whom the more disorganized and weaker Arab forces have a mistrustful relationship. As one Arab commander put it, “ISIS brings foreign fighters for an Islamic State, while they [the Kurds] bring foreign fighters for a Kurdish project…But if that is how they think, they’ll fail.” A Kurdish commander said when told of the comparison, “I came to bring democracy, while ISIS came to kill…That is the difference.”

But idealism is one thing; getting results is another. And right now, the contrast between the high words of Americans and their allies, and the effective actions of the Russians and theirs, is on stark display.

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