Despite their alliance, Russia has never had much influence over Syria’s policies.
Published in the Washington Post.
All eyes are on Russia as President Trump prepares to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki next week. But the real geopolitical focus of the meeting might well be a few thousand miles away in Syria. Last week, national security adviser John Bolton said that the meeting could offer a “larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria” and that an agreement could be “a significant step forward” for U.S. interests in the Middle East.
But Bolton is engaging in wishful thinking, if not outright delusion. That’s not just because the United States and Russia, despite sharing the goal of stability in Syria, fundamentally diverge on how to achieve it. The administration is also vastly overestimating how much sway Russia actually has in Syria. While Syria has been Moscow’s closest Arab ally — and the largest recipient of its economic and military aid — since 1972, Russia’s influence on Syrian policy has been limited. Even as Russia’s military presence in Syria since 2015 has granted it greater leverage over the country’s future, historical precedents suggest that the relationship will continue to be one of constant disappointment and frustration.