Sunday, September 27, 2015

Doing It Putin's Way

"He is not the one who needs a deal. He has time on his side. It is us who needs a deal more."
"Whatever happens in Syria, we know that he will probably be a part of it. Meanwhile, we see that he is attempting to steer the conversation away from Ukraine entirely."
Unnamed senior western diplomat, Moscow
President Vladimir V. Putin will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time in 10 years. Credit Pool photo by Ivan Sekretarev

Russia has found itself new influence, in becoming a late-entry power behind the throne of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Not that Russia hasn't been fingering the plot that includes Iran's growing influence and power in the Middle East; they make an imposing duo, arrayed along with Iraq, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Yemen and possibly Kuwait, in support of the butchering regime in Syria.

Where Russia once had influence in the largest Arab nation of Egypt aligning himself with Sunni Islam, Vladimir Putin is satisfied to consolidate Moscow's influence in Syria as a site for the Russian Federation's Mediterranean fleet and air force. Mr. Putin's strongman image as someone who could put Georgia in its place, subservient to Russia by simply plucking away two of its provinces, had its echo in taking Sevastapol and Crimea out of Ukraine.

The Russian ruble and the country's stock exchange has responded to the resulting sanctions menu, but Russia still has the upper hand even with its devalued oil and gas product, which Ukraine and the European Union depend upon for much of their energy needs with winter approaching, and negotiations for pricing and delivery carry on unabated. Mr. Putin may believe that his more vigorous intervention in Syria while allowing east Ukraine to lie fallow for the time being will reprieve him.

Unless it's all show-and-tell, since the Russian warplanes now based at the Latakia air base are geared not so much for ground bombing missions as they are for air missions. They aren't meant to tackle Assad's warplanes, and the only others are American and others among the U.S.-led aerial mission to bomb Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ground targets. So it's all rather mysterious in its opaque presence.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Emirates can't be too pleased with Russia's new prominence in Syria, chafing at the bit to have Bashar al-Assad's Alawite regime removed. While those Sunni nations are angered at the relentless targeting of Syrian Sunnis, and the wholesale influx of refugees burdening their border areas with Syria (with the exception of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates), they too have been boxed in, vulnerable to Putin's master chess moves.

Little surprise that Europe is anxious to discuss the Syrian enterprise with Putin, hard pressed as they have been with the flood of Syrian refugees along with economic migrants from elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. If it isn't too late to save Syria from further self-destruction, and the inevitable splitting of the country, the removal of Assad and the reintegration of Syrian Sunnis into the partially destroyed landscape could signal a return of the refugees to help rebuild, financed by Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis.

But not, obviously, if Vladimir Putin has his way. Negotiating with the Obama Administration is next up on the agenda, and it appears that the non-negotiable demand for the removal of the murdering Assad has suddenly become an issue ripe for negotiation. So despite the loss of well over 240,000 Syrian lives, the eleven million displaced Syrians and refugees, the massive destruction of civil infrastructure, Assad remains in the picture.

He is the rancid devil whose penchants are well known, no worse than the reputation proudly worn by Islamic State jihadists, but when push comes to shove, Vladimir Putin, strongman, is the bearer of a shove that speaks volumes to an American administration that hesitates in its Obama incarnation to speak too determinedly about what it wants, simply because it has no idea what it wants.

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