What Vladimir Putin Is Really Up To in Syria

(Los Angeles Times) Dennis Ross - Even as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressured the non-Islamic State Syrian opposition to come to peace talks or lose American assistance, the Russians were increasing their operations in support of Syrian military and Iranian-Hizbullah offensives. These operations were designed to strengthen the Assad regime and weaken the non-Islamic State Sunni opposition. The nature of the Russian strikes makes clear that Putin was not just trying to improve Assad's leverage before negotiations. He was intent on changing the balance of power fundamentally on the ground and sending a message to Arab leaders: If you want to deal with problems in Syria or in the region, you deal with us. Putin aims to demonstrate that Russia, and not America, is the main power broker in the region and increasingly elsewhere. Putin is undercutting America's aim of isolating Islamic State and having Sunnis lead the fight against it. Sunni-led governments in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan won't seriously join the fight against Islamic State so long as there appears to be a war against their coreligionists in Syria. Rather than being opposed to the Russian efforts, the U.S. looks to be in league with them. Unless we are prepared to use more leverage against what the Russians are doing, we will not have Sunni partners and there will be little prospect of diplomacy working. The writer, counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, served in senior positions in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama Administrations.

2016-02-10 00:00:00

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