How Putin Checkmated The US In Syria by Anna Borshchevskaya

Posted on Saturday October 28 2017

September 30 will mark the two year anniversary of Moscow’s intervention in
Syria that saved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from an eminent collapse.
Assad is largely responsible for one of the worst humanitarian tragedies since
World War II. Today, in no small part thanks to Russian President Vladimir
Putin, he has emerged in the strongest position since massive uprisings swept
the country in March 2011.

Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have done much to prop up Assad in the last six
years. In late spring of 2013, a Hezbollah surge kept him from falling. But in
September 2015 it was Russian airpower that saved Assad from losing
ground.

Putin had stood by Assad from the very beginning and protected him
in multiple ways. He armed him, protected him on the U.N. Security Council,
and sustained Syria’s military and economy. But the intervention was a game
changer that signaled Russia’s escalation in Syria.

Today, on balance, Putin achieved virtually everything he wanted in Syria. He
kept Assad in power. He entrenched Russia’s military presence in Syria for at
least the next 49 years—Russia’s largest military presence outside the former
Soviet Union at that. Thus, Putin reduced US ability to maneuver militarily in
the region and assured Russia’s influence in one of the most strategicallyimportant
countries in the Middle East.

Putin’s support for Assad’s ethnic cleansing campaign exacerbated massive
and destabilizing refugee flows into Europe. As long as Assad or someone like
him remains in power, the majority of refugees will not return home. Assad’s
traditional foes, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have come
to accept Moscow’s view on Assad, and even Saudi Arabia may be shifting its
position in Moscow’s favor.

Most importantly for Putin, he can now showcase cooperation with the West
—on his terms. He created a perception of Russia as a great power broker and
obtained international recognition for his latest ceasefire initiative in
southwest Syria that led to establishment of de-escalation zones after Putin
met with Trump in July of this year. Russia, Iran, and Turkey serve as
ceasefire guarantors. Putin always resisted Western-protected safe zones in
Syria, but a Russia-led ceasefire allows him to preserve his interests in the
country.

De-escalation zones have a weaker protective framework than Westernbacked
zones would have had. Moscow deployed its military police to
monitor the ceasefire but it’s unclear how this arrangement will be enforced.
The agreement barely acknowledges Iran’s role in Syria. Meanwhile, two key
US allies in the region, Israel and Jordan, now have to deal with Russia on
vital US national security issues. With Russia as a partner, the US now also
has to share the moral burden of Russian airstrikes that kill civilians.
Far from getting himself into a quagmire in Syria that President Obama
had predicted in October 2015, Putin has been able to carry out a relatively
cheap campaign and is now on his way to extricating himself from the conflict
while ensuring Russia’s presence and influence at the same time. He boosted
Russia’s arms exports by using Syria as a testing ground for Russian
weaponry. Now that the situation is stabilizing in certain key regions of the
country, Russian energy companies are looking to rebuild Syria’s energy
infrastructure.

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