Troops for Syria is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dramatic masterstroke

September 28, 2015 11:19 am


President Vladimir Putin (right), with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,
has trumped Western policy in by putting troops on the ground.
Photo / AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dramatic deployment of soldiers,
weapons and aircraft to Syria is aimed at reshaping not just a civil war
on the edge of the Mediterranean but ’s standing in the world
Moscow has been isolated for years by sanctions
slapped on the country as punishment for its annexation of Crimea and
support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Doubling down on his
support for the Syrian regime, Putin sent a clear signal there would be
no solution to the bloody quagmire without Moscow.
The United
Nations General Assembly in New York this week offers an opportunity for
world leaders to inject new momentum into international talks on Syria,
especially as attendees include United States President Barack Obama
and Putin. Once isolated over Ukraine, the Russian President forces the West to take notice at UN.

A few months ago the Russian leader would have arrived at the UN
as a virtual pariah. Now he has a meeting set with Obama tomorrow, and
the lingering European conflict will be politely ignored as leaders wait
for his suggestions as to how they can edge back from the brink in

“Putin and Kremlin had a clear goal to overcome international
isolation because of Ukraine,” said Alexander Golts, military analyst
and deputy editor of a site that was censored hours after Crimea
was annexed.
“The idea of an anti-Isis coalition looked like some
kind of excellent bridge to overcome isolation, and it appears to have
Last week’s military expansion around Russia’s Latakia
air base captured on satellite pictures is not purely posturing. Russia
is keen to hold on to its only air and naval bases in the Mediterranean,
averse to letting the regime change sought by the West go ahead and
worried about the influence of radical Islamists in Muslim areas.
by sending a few thousand troops to well-protected bases, where they
are not expected to do more than train and support Syrians, Putin has
broken out of diplomatic isolation, staked Russia’s claim to a strategic
presence in the Middle East and made a case that no deal can be done in
any international conflict without Russia.
“The Russian goal is
to reassert their pivotal role in handling any global crisis,” said
Jonathan Eyal, international director at the Royal United Services
Institute thinktank. “Without Syria, a man known for aggression in
Ukraine has to stand up and explain himself. Now everyone appears to
have forgotten what happened in Ukraine … That’s quite a turnaround.”

The price of this transformation has been the deployment of up to
2000 troops to an airbase in Syria, with 24 warplanes, tanks,
helicopters and anti-aircraft complexes. A Russian soldier told news
site that 1700 troops were at the naval base in Tartus and
were renovating the pier there.
Western policy over Syria is in
such disarray that Russia’s brand of ruthless realpolitik has turned
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into an unexpected trump card. Even in
European capitals, politicians who once called for his ousting are
grudgingly starting to argue that the dictator is his country’s only
grim hope for some kind of stability.
In reality, bolstering
Assad will not necessarily resolve two of ’s top concerns – Isis
and the flow of refugees from Syria. Assad has focused his attention
largely on fighting other groups, leaving the battle against Isis inside
Syria mostly in the hands of Western air power, Kurdish militias and
any rebels whose territorial ambitions put them into conflict with the
Raqqa-based group.
Nor are all or even most Syrian refugees
fleeing Isis. Exact numbers of civilian casualties are hard to pin down,
but almost all observers agree that Assad’s forces have killed more
Syrians than any other group. They have eschewed the publicity that Isis
courts, but their barrel bombs have deliberately targeted civilian
neighbourhoods, fuelling an exodus.
The wider resolution of the
conflict that the West seeks may not be within Russia’s grasp. There is
no evidence that Moscow has a clearer understanding than Western
policymakers of the web of warring factions that have made the war so
There is concern in Russia too about the estimated
2400 Russians fighting in the ranks of Isis, said Russian Foreign
Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Air strikes failing to deter fighters

United States intelligence fears nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have
travelled to Iraq and Syria since 2011, the New York Times reported.
• The number represents a doubling of last year’s assessment and will dismay US war planners.

US President Barack Obama will chair an international summit on the
sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week for leaders fighting Isis
(Islamic State) and “violent extremism”.
• A US Congressional report
into foreign fighter flows is expected to paint a bleak picture,
suggesting that a year of US-led air strikes has not slowed recruitment.

Britain is to soften its demand that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad
must be immediately removed from power to bring peace to the country.
Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to signal the major shift in
policy at the United Nations today.
– AFP, Telegraph Group Ltd, Observer

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