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The Russian Putt

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 21/03/2016 Carlo Caro

2016-03-17-1458234693-9361376-obamaputingolf.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-17-1458234693-9361376-obamaputingolf.jpg Via Economicnoise
Vladimir Putin recently announced that he would be largely withdrawing from Syria. There was however, no complete "mission accomplished" but there is no denying that the Russians have done a lot better than the Americans. Russia has been strategic, while the USA has been a little reckless. The United States has failed at trying to find reliable third parties to do their counterinsurgency. The Russians on the other hand targeted mostly al Qaeda allied militant groups (including many of the loose coalition"FSA" groups etc.) and more recently they turned their attention to ISIS.
For the Russians it was essential to initially concentrate everything on the other groups because no one was targeting them (externally). On the contrary, everybody from the Persian Gulf to the United States was propping them up. Not only financially and militarily, but also morally. They were falsely depicted as Syrian freedom fighters, but neither were they from Syria nor were they fighting for freedom. Many policymakers didn't ask questions about who these people were, or what they fought for, and instead they saw them as a quick solution and dropped them money and weapons. This was indeed reminiscent of the CIA funding of the Mujahideen to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
For around five months the Russians really helped Assad turn the tide of the war. The Syrian Arab Army has extended its control to at least 400 towns and villages over an area of 10,000 square kilometers. Recently there was talk [a little exaggerated] in some of the Arab media of the possibility of Assad getting back control of Raqqa (the ISIS stronghold).
But what lead Putin to decide to withdraw a significant part of his forces? Given all of these successes Putin thinks a. He's spent quite a lot of money already and the situation looks better, b. Crimea is quite important (and he's fighting a "war" on two fronts - never a good idea), and c. By withdrawing a significant part of forces then you eliminate the possibility of Turkey or Saudi Arabia's direct intervention in Syria.
And c. is the most important factor here; it is indeed the Russian putt. The autocrats in Saudi and Turkey had numerous times contemplated putting troops into Syria, and breaking the country apart officially. Not that they haven't tried to do this, mainly through third parties, unofficially of course.
And so there must have been an agreement between Moscow and Washington. D.C. will never acknowledge this, but all of us who pretend to be good diplomatic historians know that secret deals between rulers have always existed. Americans must have given the Russians a pledge to prevent Turkey and Saudi Arabia from any interference given the shift of the balance in Syria, and this would also be translated into Washington getting Ankara to seriously close its borders on some areas. It should be no surprise that this Russian move has taken place a few days before the peace talks, with the goal of giving the Americans a stronger and more legitimate position too - in the face of so many critics. All in all everyone wins. The Russians impede Turkey and Saudi Arabia from partitioning the country and sharing its spoils among their informal friends, while the Americans come off as the country with the most dominant position.
Besides it is easier to collaborate with President Barack Obama, than with neocons like Rubio (not that he's got a chance any longer, unless he had teamed up with Cruz) or Clinton (what I term in regards to foreign policy a neocon's cousin). Or Christie who actually wanted to shoot down Russian fighter jets.
We should also take into consideration that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov the day before yesterday expressed his country 's readiness to coordinate with the coalition led by the United States to expel ISIS. In any case, and in a sense, all parties enter the peace talks of a Syria that is more de-conflicted than before. No one can really blame the Russians in case of a bad outcome and the Russians have given Assad a stronger and clearer pathway/position.
Finally, I don't buy the story that Putin had notified Assad practically the same day of the withdrawal's announcement. No, it would have have been in advance. But this gives the impression that Russia is being more neutral in this diplomatic game and will be a better broker in the negotiations. It helps give the perspective that they can have flexibility and therefore attacks any critics who have accused Russia of imperialism and of being biased. In all fairness the Russians have indeed had disagreements with Assad, but for them the regime needs to stay.
And it would be crazy not to agree that Assad needs to stay. Who would replace him? The leader of the Nusra front? Or the leader of the Islamic Front?
And for Putin if all goes to worse again - he's still got his air and naval bases in Syria.

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