Russia, Syria, Turkey

Can Turkey and Russia Create a Buffer Zone in Idlib?

turkrusThe tenuous deal surely is welcome news for the Trump administration, which has struggled to define a set of objectives in Syria and seemed to have little leverage to stop the looming Idlib offensive. The U.S. for years has waged a bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, but the administration stopped short of taking direct military action against Mr. Assad.

“Syria is a proxy battlefield… The Turks are supporting rebel groups, the Saudis are in there supporting rebel groups. You have the Russians and Iranians in there supporting the regime. It’s not like what happens in Syria stays in Syria.”

Read the full interview with the Washington Times.

Russia, Syria

Limited U.S. Policy Options in Syria [Interview]

idlib

What can be done to stop the looming Idlib assault, and what — realistically — is the best outcome the Trump administration can hope for?

“There’s always been overlapping or unclear objectives. There’s never been an unambiguous strategy. Unlike the Russians, as we know, who have always had one clear strategy: the preservation of the Assad regime. And they’ve backed that up with military force.”

Read the full interview with the Washington Times.

Russia, Syria

Expectations for Trump’s Meeting with Putin in Helsinki

810208294.jpg.0The United States has little leverage in Syria and very few policy options. Russia is the strongest external actor in Syria and Russian influence will likely prevail. Since 2015, Putin has deployed military force in support of the Syrian government. The United States and Russia have supported opposite sides in the Syrian war, and there is little incentive for Putin who is winning to now offer concessions to Trump.

The most that the United States can hope for or expect is that Russia agrees to maintain a de-escalation zone in southern Syria. This pact was established in 2017 between Russia, the United States, and Jordan to create de-escalation zones on the Syrian-Israeli border and on the Syrian-Jordanian border. There is a shared goal of achieving stability and saving lives by preventing Iranian-backed militias from conducting operations in the area.

However, Syria has a history of doing what it pleases, not what the United States — or Russia — demands. Assad is determined to reconquer all of Syria, and implementing and enforcing this buffer zone would require Russia to turn against Iran. It is unlikely that Moscow would be willing to use military force to expel the Iranians and their allies from southern Syria, as this could potentially ignite another conflict and foment greater instability.

Read the full interview with the Lebanese daily An-Nahar [Arabic] Newspaper.

Russia, Syria

Russia and the U.S. have Common Interests in Syria. But it may not Matter

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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.

Continue reading the full article in the Washington Post.

 

russia-syria
Russia, Syria

Why Russia will Prevail in Syria

russia-syriaPublished in the Washington Post.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that Syrian and Russian warplanes killed more than 500 civilians, including 121 children, in Eastern Ghouta from Feb. 18 through Sunday. Moscow denies direct involvement, despite having deployed military forces in support of the Syrian government since 2015.

This weekend, after initial resistance, Moscow reluctantly agreed to a cease-fire after the Kuwaiti and Swedish draft sponsors omitted calls that it take effect in 72 hours. This cynical delay of the implementation allows Russia and its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, time to rearm their forces for the next round of violence.

Continue reading the full article in the Washington Post.

Russia, Syria

Why Russia will Prevail in Syria [Interview]

putin-2847423_960_720The US does not have a coherent strategy in Syria. At times Washington has advocated different agendas such as humanitarian relief, Assad’s resignation, and the defeat of Islamic State. Russia, on the other hand, has always had a clear and consistent strategy:  defending its ally, Assad. In 2015, Russia deployed military force in support of the government which has ensured that the Western-backed opposition in Syria would be defeated.

Assad is here to stay and Russian influence has prevailed.

Read the full interview with the Lebanese daily An-Nahar [Arabic] Newspaper.

China, Israel, Russia

Weekend Thinking: Israel, China and Russia

In case you missed this week’s important stories from the Middle East and beyond.

Israel

Jonathan Tepperman’s bold essay in The Atlantic argues that while Israel is in a position of strength, it should control its own destiny with the Palestinians.  Although bilateral negotiations have failed to achieve a political settlement, Israeli unilateral actions in the West Bank may be the only pragmatic solution, as a continuation of the status quo in the unpredictable climate of the Middle East coupled with demographic trends could have grave consequences for the sustainability of Israel’s national identity. Continue reading “Weekend Thinking: Israel, China and Russia”