Putin’s End Game in Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian press is watching Oliver Stone’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin and likes what it sees. Syria’s al-Watan (The Nation) reports that Putin’s Syria policy is the complete restoration of central government authority over the entire country, in preparation for a pull-back of Russian military forces to the Humaymin Air Base and Tartus on the Mediterranean.

He doesn’t appear to envisage that the Syrian military is capable, however, of taking all the country’s territory back, no matter how much air support Russia gives. Instead he sees a negotiation process, helped along by outside players such as the United States, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey willing to negotiate at Astana, Kazakhstan. He says he is asking them for “constructive cooperation.”

Putin believes that all the major players can agree that terrorism must be stopped.

Putin admits the need for “dialogue” between the opposition and the regime, including the armed opposition. (If Putin is sincere about this, he should be aware that Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly refused to talk to armed rebels, dismissing them as terrorists.)

Asked if it is necessary to partition Syria to resolve its crisis, Putin strongly disagreed and argued for the necessity of maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria and attaining a resolution of the various conflicts going on in the country.

He points out that partitioning Syria might only result in the mini-states fighting wars with one another.

Putin said that Russia was willing to support those Sunni rebel groups that fought ISIL (Daesh, ISIS) and the Nusra Front (the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate). He revealed that al-Assad is OK with that.

The end game, Putin says, will be the drafting of a new constitution and the holding of new presidential elections under watchful international supervision, as soon as possible.

In the meantime, in his phoner with the press on Thursday, Putin gave some less noble reasons for his involvement in the Syrian war, according to BBC Monitoring:

“The experience that the Russian military have gained in Syria is priceless, President Vladimir Putin said, speaking at his annual phone-in as shown live on official state TV Rossiya 1 on 15 June.

“We can say that the experience of using our Armed Forces in combat while employing modern weapons is absolutely priceless, I am saying this without any exaggeration. You know, our forces have even gained an absolutely different quality,” Putin said.

Combat experience also gave a chance to military engineers to test and tune the weapons on site, he added.”

Source: Rossiya 1 TV, Moscow, in Russian 0903 gmt 15 Jun 17

That sounds about right. The Russian military-industrial complex isn’t less than anyone else’s.

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17 Responses

  1. Putin’s actual plan is a lot more realistic than the original US plan of deposing Assad, leaving about 40 (your figure many moons ago Juan) different groups to fight it out for top dog. I think he’ll persuade Assad – all he has to do is leave…
    & naturally he wants to assure his people that their taxes are not entirely wasted in minding other people’s business! As well as some salesmenship, of course. Grin!

  2. I haven’t seen a real reason for the Saudi Arabian destruction of Yemen. Do they want direct access to the Arabian Sea?

    Is the new policy against Qatar to reduce competition?

    • Yeah, somehow that business never added up. The Iranian proxy story was always a rather threadbare excuse.

      With Qatar there’s some reasoning that the pressure is a first step to minimize funding of these groups (conveniently and especially including the Brotherhood, which the Saudi’s hate for their own reasons). This could all be some sort of deal with the US along those lines, with the promise to clean up their own act to follow. I stand to be better informed.

    • Maybe it is because Yemen is an anti-Syria in a way, with Sunni minority governing a Shia majority country, so viloence against them is not considered bad.

  3. Putin’s policy aspirations are all very rational, noble even, as suits the image he seeks to project to the global audiences Stone’s interview will reach. But they are pie in the sky since there is no way on earth the US would agree to join Iran, Egypt, and Turkey to negotiate in “constructive cooperation”. As for the valuable experience Russian forces have gained in Syria, it would be very odd indeed if that were not so, but there is no suggestion this was in any way a motive for entering the fray. Nor, I imagine, does he intend the triumphs of his involvement to serve in a sales pitch for Russian weaponry. Isn’t any nation justified in regarding foreign armed rebels as terrorists and responding to them as such? However, if such a conference were to take place, they should indeed be on hand since they would be required to lay down their arms and surrender.

    • Well-said. If you look at places like Colombia, the demand of the government was for FARC and ELN to disarm and recognize the authority of the state as necessary conditions for the conflict to end. In Syria we have uninvited guests and invited guests fighting for influence and foothold.

    • “Nor, I imagine, does he intend the triumphs of his involvement to serve in a sales pitch for Russian weaponry.”

      I keep noticing that yo always imagine only the very best things when it comes to Putin.

      • Putin agreed to this unprecedented interview because it presented a golden PR opportunity and he’s an expert at that kind of thing. In it, inter alia he proposes a statesmanlike solution to the Syrian bloodbath. We can decide each for ourselves whether he means it or not but either way it remains only an aspiration for the reason I mentioned. Obviously he knows that but his proposal has credibility and will go stone skipping, as it has here, and lodge favourably in many minds which is as good a reason as any for undertaking the interview. He’s a chess player.

    • The idea that Putin’s policy aspirations are noble is laughable at best. Autocratic policies are almost never noble, whatever the country. As for Russia, perhaps the last policy that may have been noble probably was the czar’s decision to support Serbia in 1914.

    • Since US policy has been a mix of the delusional and the ambiguous from the start, “constructive cooperation” is likely to be beyond it. But Egypt, Iran and Turkey all share Putin’s goal of retaining a united Syria, and have at various points cooperated to that end. Since Iraq is also firmly of the same view, and Jordan edging to it, where does that leave the US?

  4. Another lesson from the Spanish Civil War – war as a place to field-test one’s weapons and military doctrines?

  5. you say
    ” The Russian military-industrial complex isn’t less than anyone else’s.”
    incredible statement
    Russia spends less than Saudi on military.
    Approximately 10% of what USA spends.
    Less than half what China spends.

      • Relative figures.

        Absolute figures comparing the two countries provides a significant differing perspective.

        More importantly, compare the two countries total in military export.

        • Just so, don. I was saying something similar but got a bit carried away!!
          I did note that Israel tops them both at 5.4% – but the question there is – does that count as part of the US spending or does it it not?

  6. It shouldn’t be too much for the US to carry the two notions in it’s head at the same time that Putin may be a dangerous snake, and that he may also have a reasonable perspective and approach with which to approach the Syrian situation.

  7. There is far too much MIC profit to be extricated from our taxpayers in siege replenishables, e.g. Tomahawk missiles, aerial bombs modified to be TGBs and FUELS!! to be faux-bullied by Putin.

    Imagine two devious leaders conspiring to start a mock war against one another in a region which can be looted for natural resources by those behind one or both leaders.

    Trump on Iraq: “We should have kept the oil.” Quoting the former WWE promoter and reality show producer.

    link to giphy.com

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