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Putin’s Endgame in Syria Has Arrived

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Syria increasingly seems to be moving toward de facto partition accompanied by ongoing low-level military conflict and a functional, but sluggish politics — a so-called frozen conflict. This may have been the goal all along for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has initiated and managed such conflicts elsewhere, including in Georgia and Ukraine.

Other significant players in Syria, including Israel, the United States, Turkey, and the remaining Sunni Arab rebels, may likewise discover they’d be satisfied with this new reality. The clearest losers, by contrast, would be the Assad regime and Iran.

What are the indications Syria is moving in the direction of frozen conflict? Consider the recent visit by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Russia to meet with Putin. At the press conference following the meeting, Putin told reporters that, “Following the Syrian Army’s notable successes in fighting terrorism, and with the activation of the political process, the foreign forces based in Syria will start to withdraw from the country.” This seemed to hint that the Russian president wasn’t interested in assisting the Assad regime’s reconquest of the entirety of Syria. And absent the Russian air support that the Syrian military has relied on in major combat operations (including the siege of Aleppo and the destruction of rebel-controlled Eastern Ghouta), such reconquest would be impossible.

Some have speculated that Putin was referring only to the withdrawal of foreign forces opposed to the regime. In the past, Moscow has sought to differentiate between its own presence in Syria (at the invitation of the “legitimate” Syrian authorities) and the uninvited presence of other foreign elements. On this occasion, however, Russia’s Syria envoy, Alexander Lavrentiev, clarified that the president was referring to “all foreign military forces stationed in Syria, including American, Turkish, Hezbollah, and Iranian [forces].”

The Russian statement was followed by an angry response from Tehran. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters in Tehran that, “No one can force Iran to do anything. … As long as terrorism exists and the Syrian government wants, Iran will have presence [in Syria].” The dueling statements are just one indication among many of differences between Moscow and some of its allies about the future of Syria. There’s also Moscow’s acquiescence to recent large-scale Israeli air actions against Iranian targets in Syria, and its apparent granting of permission to the Turks to establish a sizeable enclave in northwest Syria. Assad, meanwhile, has rejected a Russian plan for the drafting of a new Syrian constitution that would limit his powers.

Moscow’s pattern of behavior elsewhere suggests that it is comfortable with the maintenance of unresolved conflicts, at relatively low cost. In Ukraine, for example, the conflict in the Donbass remains far from resolution. But by holding parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, Russia ensures that it can disrupt Ukraine’s internal affairs at will, and that its plans and strategy are the most urgent issue facing any Ukrainian government.

In Syria, of course, Russia is backing the government, rather than an insurgency of its own making, as in Ukraine. But Moscow is now making clear that its interests don’t entirely overlap with Assad’s.

This wasn’t immediately apparent when Russian aircraft first appeared over the skies of Syria on Sept. 30, 2015. They were received with a crescendo of triumphant editorials in pro-Iran and pro-Hezbollah regional media. An article in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar at the time by its editor, Ibrahim al-Amin, heralded the birth of the “4 + 1” alliance, which would include Iran, Iraq, Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah — and Russia. The reality today suggests a more complex picture.

Russia appears largely to have made the points it wished to make in Syria. Its intervention kept the Assad regime from probable defeat in 2015. The regime’s fortunes have since been reversed. It now controls around 60 percent of Syrian territory. The last enclaves of Islamic State control in the vicinity of Damascus were emptied out this week. No danger of rebel victory remains.

Russia has proved the efficacy of its brutal air tactics and weapons systems, and the relative skill and dedication of its revamped army. It has preserved the integrity of its naval bases in Tartus and Latakia, and the Khmeimim air base. It has made its point that Moscow sticks by its allies. And it has killed many North Caucasian jihadis who had made their way to the rebellion.

But Putin evidently has little interest in the job al-Amin, the pro-Hezbollah editor, wanted to offer him: leader of the region’s militant Shiite bloc. Rather, Moscow wishes to make itself the key power broker in the Syrian context, the address through which all must pass in pursuit of their goals. But for this, of course, Russia must be able to grant each party part of what it wants, rather than coming down firmly on any side.

Russia thus wishes to preserve and increase the rift between Turkey and its fellow NATO member states. For this reason, Moscow appears to have conceded the establishment of a de facto Turkish-Sunni Islamist enclave in northwest Syria, stretching from the town of Jarabulus in the east and taking in the greater part of Idlib province. Turkey is currently in the final stages of constructing 12 observation posts ringing Idlib. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Recep Akdag last week ruled out any return of the recently conquered Afrin area to the Assad regime.

The Turks could not have carried out the operations to establish this enclave without the tacit approval of the Russians, who control the skies above northwest Syria. The regime, of course, regards the Turkish actions as a violation of its sovereignty. But without Russian muscle to call on, there is little it can do.

Farther south, the large-scale Israeli air actions against Iranian facilities have been mostly ignored by Moscow. Russian air defenses have made no attempt to intervene. Putin made clear following a recent visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow that Russia has no current intention to provide the Assad regime with the S-300 air defense system.

Iran has been pushing for the regime to attempt an assault on remaining rebel enclaves in southwest Syria. The arrival of Iran-supported units to the border, however, brings with it the possibility of a large-scale Israeli response. Russia has no interest in such an outcome, which could plunge Syria into a new war and threaten the gains the Assad regime has already made.

In the east, Russia appears in no hurry to challenge the entrenchment of the United States and its allies in the 30 percent of Syria they control east of the Euphrates River.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s throwing down of the gauntlet to Iran in his speech this week indicates it’s unlikely that the U.S. military will abandon its positions in eastern Syria anytime soon. That area acts as a barrier to a contiguous area of Iranian domination stretching through Iraq and to Lebanon and the borders with Israel, and key U.S. allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia clearly hope the United States will retain control over it as a tool for continued pressure on Tehran. U.S. representatives met this week with commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces in the contested town of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, and pledged continued U.S. support for the Kurdish-dominated force.

Where is all this heading? Russia, having largely achieved its aims in Syria, now wishes to balance its support for the Assad regime with other interests: namely, the continued undermining of the West elsewhere in the world and the maintenance of working relations with other regional powers, including Turkey and Israel. The United States and Israel, meanwhile, are primarily focused on the challenge to Iranian regional advancement. The result will be a divided Syria that serves as the arena for the playing out of non-Syrian agendas — a geopolitical situation that Russia has plenty of experience navigating.


74 Comments on "Putin’s Endgame in Syria Has Arrived"

  1. onlooker on Sun, 27th May 2018 3:35 pm 

    Boat, do not need to write a check. The collection arm of our Empire oops country is collecting my taxes and the taxes of others as well as Debt payments in vast amounts. Meaning they are already bleeding us dry. My suggestion is we ALL rise up and change it. To what who knows but change it. But since you are okay with just going to work and your lifeforce energy is being ever more sapped to pay your bills and help fund the Empire and its Wars, (not upgrading our dilipidated infrastructure ) well then you get the Govt you deserve.

  2. GregT on Sun, 27th May 2018 3:49 pm 

    More of your usual paranoid delusions Davy. You’ve gone completely off of the deep end.

    Get help.

  3. Boat on Sun, 27th May 2018 3:54 pm 


    Who do you know that thinks they get the government they deserve. You rise up and change it and I will be judgeing you instead. In Venz they changed the gov a couple of times. How did that work.

  4. GregT on Sun, 27th May 2018 4:15 pm 


    “Who do you know that thinks they get the government they deserve.”

    Obviously not enough people understand that fact, but eventually, they’ll figure it out the hard way.

  5. Davy on Sun, 27th May 2018 4:24 pm 

    Says the guy in therepy

  6. Manila1 on Sun, 27th May 2018 5:16 pm 

    Davy, sure you do. It is obvious to anyone here. You wave the bloody flag 24/7/365 in support of your pirating family and it’s corrupt government support.

    What happens if Putin decides that the Us is about to attack Russia and it is a “use em or lose em” decision? Answer: 3AM flashes over the major Us cities 20 minutes after the button is pushed. Always a possibility.

    As for family, there is nothing I can do to stop the future or even make a significant change. I can only warn them to prepare. I have learned in my long life that worry changes nothing. I love my family, but that will make no difference no matter where I am in the world when the SHTF. I am a realist. I don’t pretend to special powers like you.

    I am here on family business that you accuse me of not having. Sorry, I am in excellent health. I will likely outlive you.

    BTW: Regressing to that nine year old again? You and MM are so fucked up, it isn’t even funny. You really need help Davy. Maybe one of these?

    “Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center”
    “Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Psychiatry Clinic”
    “New Leaf Psychiatric Center, L.L.C.”

  7. Davy on Sun, 27th May 2018 5:55 pm 

    You didn’t answer my question 3rd world, what medical problem are you in the states for? It must be serious or you wouldn’t be here. I thought you told everyone with so much pride how you would NEVER come back but look, here you are. You will be home for good when it is time for the nursing home.

  8. MASTERMIND on Sun, 27th May 2018 5:58 pm 


    Does the psych ward know you smuggled in a mobile phone?

  9. MASTERMIND on Sun, 27th May 2018 6:12 pm 

    But peckerwoods are the Superior race with high iq’s rite?×430.jpg

  10. Manila1 on Sun, 27th May 2018 6:53 pm 

    MM, you keep proving your immaturity, stupidity, and poor education…

  11. Manila1 on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:02 pm 

    Davy, are those illegal drugs you use losing their effectiveness?

    “… I am in excellent health.”

    What don’t you understand about that short answer to your previous question? Ignorance? Inability to understand English? Or doesn’t it fit your delusions? BTW: I’ll be back in the Ps next weekend and have more time to post here.

    Did you ever consider that the “family business”, may be simply a wedding, anniversary or other family activity? After all, it IS graduation time in the Us. AND, I never said I would not return to the Us to visit, you did. Your delusions are getting more and more, well, delusional.

  12. Davy on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:25 pm 

    3rd world, was the treatment expensive? Will you have to return for follow ups?

  13. Davy on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:27 pm 

    “I never said I would not return to the Us to visit, you did.”

    3rd world, now you are lying or just old age forgetful. When your mom died you said you would never return to the states.

  14. GregT on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:41 pm 

    “3rd world, now you are lying or just old age forgetful. When your mom died you said you would never return to the states.”

    I’m sure that Makat1 doesn’t need another mother figure Davy.

    You’re obsessed with the man. Move on already.

  15. Manila1 on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:48 pm 

    Davy, you can project your delusions here, but no one believes them. You refuse to accept anything that contradicts your delusions. I never said I would not visit my family in the Us, nor is there anything wrong with my health. Just because you wish you were correct does not make it so.

    Your desire to see what you want to see and not see reality is getting worse. You really need mental help. Get it soon, before you hurt someone.

    BTW: Doesn’t look like Italy will be a good place to run to when the SHTF.

    “Italy In Chaos: Country To Vote Again After President Blocks Government; “Unclear What Happens Next””
    “”A Toxic Coup Narrative”: Why Italy’s Political Crisis May Be About To Explode”
    “Moody’s Puts Italy On Downgrade Review, Junk Rating Possible”
    “European Earthquake as Populist Government Forms in Italy”
    From the frying pan into the fir…

  16. MASTERMIND on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:54 pm 

    Fight at fuel station in Brazil..

  17. Manila1 on Sun, 27th May 2018 7:55 pm 

    Greg, Davy cannot move on. He has nothing to move on to. If he could not bullshit on here, all he would have is his goats.

    Obsessions are his life. Unfortunately, they are not useful or even positive ones. He is reduced to herding goats like an uneducated Afghan 3rd worlder.

  18. Davy on Sun, 27th May 2018 8:07 pm 

    Davy, you can project your delusions here, but no one believes them.
    “Then why are you even commenting? Remember when you bragged about ignoring me? LOL”

    “I never said I would not visit my family in the Us, nor is there anything wrong with my health. Just because you wish you were correct does not make it so.”
    I flushed a covey. LOL

    “Your desire to see what you want to see and not see reality is getting worse. You really need mental help.”
    Yea, sure, you sound like your buddy that is in therapy.

    “BTW: Doesn’t look like Italy will be a good place to run to when the SHTF.”
    3rd world you know you are going to upset your other buddy the Nazi putting down Euroland….Oh and where are the links you act like a school dropout.

  19. GregT on Sun, 27th May 2018 8:25 pm 

    You’re getting more disfunctional by the day Davy.

    Don’t you think that it’s long passed the time to move on buddy?

  20. Cloggie on Sun, 27th May 2018 11:49 pm 

    Neder wants war that is my point grehggie just like you do.

    I was provoking you and millimind. Europe, Russia and China will not start a war, you will.

    I do not advocate that Eurasia starts a war and I hope it will not happen at all. Time works in the favor of Eurasia anyway, as the US will turn itself in an impotent third world country first anyway.

    But the message is: if the US crosses the line and again starts a war somewhere, you will be hit in your face.

    It is 2 billion developed Eurasians and 1.5 billion Muslims against 330 million exceptionalists, the latter deeply divided in themselves. You are going to be defeated and the US empire will be dismantled, even the US itself.

    The latter is going to happen anyway, even soon…

    … and I hope it can be done without WW3, but I am afraid WW3 will happen.

  21. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 4:39 am 

    “I do not advocate that Eurasia starts a war and I hope it will not happen at all.”

    “pathetic waffling liar”

  22. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 4:41 am 

    “Don’t you think that it’s long passed the time to move on buddy?”

    Enough of your noise grehggie. Are you capable of a comment that says something?

  23. Manila1 on Mon, 28th May 2018 6:19 am 

    Insane Davy is still unable to refute his delusions. Reverts to putdowns and name calling.

  24. Davy on Mon, 28th May 2018 6:45 am 

    3rd world, you are pathetic just like your friends. You constantly whine about how mistreated you are. Pussy

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