sabato, Maggio 15

Syria talks bring regional rivals together as russian strikes continue

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Moscow – Combining military force with diplomacy, Russian President Vladimir Putin has pursued his Syria strategy, which he hopes could help overcome Moscow’s isolation and revive its global clout. The apparent goal of Russian air campaign is to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s positions to a point, when his foes would be willing to negotiate a compromise with the Syrian regime. In the Kremlin’s view, that compromise must help end the more than four-and-half years of fighting, ensure a smooth political transition and secure Moscow’s interests in Syria.

Assad’s visit to Moscow last week was intended to send a message to all global players: Moscow holds the key to the settlement of the Syrian crisis and wouldn’t allow anyone to topple the Syrian regime by force. At the same time, Putin might have invited Assad to tell him about Moscow’s vision of a political transition, and, possibly, his gradual departure.

This week in Vienna, the foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and a dozen of other countries met to discuss ways of political settlement.

 

THE GENESIS OF THE CRISIS

The talks follow up on last week’s meeting of the U.S., Russian, Saudi and Turkish foreign ministers. The invitation of Iran to the next round of talks marks a key milestone in diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates, which stood at the roots of the Syrian crisis, until now had staunchly opposed any role for Tehran in the peace talks.

In fact, the March 2011 protests against Assad’s rule quickly expanded and eventually morphed into a civil war thanks to the Gulf States offering a strong financial and military support to the Syrian opposition. The oil monarchies of the Gulf saw the popular uprising as a chance to get rid of Assad’s regime, a key ally of Iran, their arch-foe in the region.

The U.S., euphoric about the Arab Spring, quickly backed the demands for Assad to step down, thinking that his days are numbered. They miscalculated. Iran, seeing Assad’s looming defeat as an existential challenge, quickly sent its elite Revolutionary Guards to help on the battlefield, while Russia and China teamed up at the U.N. Security Council to block Western-proposed sanctions against the Syrian regime.

 

THE RUSSIAN GAME-CHANGER

Despite the Iranian military aid and Russian diplomatic support, Assad’s troops suffered a series of defeats at the hands of increasingly emboldened opposition earlier this year, raising new doubts about the regime’s chances for survival. The ISIL, which has fought both the Syrian military and Syrian opposition groups, also has steadily expanded its zone of control in Eastern and Northern Syria, despite the year-long U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.

Putin saw Assad’s meltdown as both a challenge and a chance. Early in the summer, he reached out to the Saudis for the first time since the start of the crisis, hosting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman. The 30-year old prince, the youngest defense minister in the world, is a son of the monarchy’s new ruler, King Salman, who came to power in January. Putin apparently saw the change of leadership in Saudi Arabia as a chance to turn the page in the Syrian crisis and protect Russia’s interests. New meetings and talks with the Saudis followed during the summer, but they haven’t brought any visible results. Then in September Putin again surprised the world by deploying several dozen combat aircraft to a base in Syria’s coastal province of Lattakia, the heartland of Assad’s Alawite community.

Russia launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, two days after Putin warned U.S. President Barack Obama about that at their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly.

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