Moscow – With his air campaign in Syria that have just marked two months, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved one of his main goals: distract attention from the Ukrainian crisis. While the United States and the European Union have shown no indication they could drop anti-Russian sanctions any time soon, the talk about Ukraine that has dominated the Russia-West agenda for nearly two years have slid into the “also discussed” part of Putin’s meeting with the U.S. and the EU leaders.
While officials in Washington and Brussels have sought to emphasize that they haven’t eased the pressure on Moscow regarding Ukraine, their language indicated that both the U.S. and the EU have progressively lost interest in the Ukrainian crisis. It doesn’t mean that Moscow could get its way on Ukraine, but Putin wasn’t hoping for that. The Russian leader’s main goal was to end the period when the Ukrainian crisis completely dominated the Russia-West agenda. Thanks to his Syria action, Russia is no longer a pariah and is back as a major player at the international stage.
RUSSIA’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN IN SYRIA
With its air strikes in Syria, Russia has effectively saved Syrian President Bashar Assad from an imminent defeat following a string of military losses this year. Thanks to Russian air campaign, Assad’s forces backed by Hezbollah and Iranian troops have launched a series of ground offensives and managed to strengthen their positions in some key areas, including Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.
While Russia only deployed just around 50 warplanes and helicopters at an air base in Syria’s coastal province of Lattakia, each of them have flown numerous combat missions each day _ the tempo far exceeding that of the U.S.-led coalition. Russia stamped on Turkey’s toe by bombing ethnic Turks in northern Syria and striking oil caravans carrying ISIL’s oil to Turkey, leading to the shoot-down of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet at the border with Syria last week.
Putin retaliated by deploying long-range air defense missiles to the Russian base in Syria, and his military threatened to shoot down any aerial target that would threaten Russian aircraft. Worried by the move, Turkey has suspended its military flights near the Syrian border. The Russian president also slapped Turkey with economic sanctions and Russia’s Defense Ministry made strongly-worded accusations against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him and his family of personally benefiting from oil trade with the ISIL.
PROSPECTS OF BROAD ANTI-ISIL COALITION
While hopes for a quick creation of a broader coalition against the Islamic States were bolstered after the Paris terror attacks, there have remained sharp differences that hampered its creation. Putin said Monday after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at a global climate summit in Paris that they discussed the list of who should be considered terrorists and which groups in Syria could be part of a political process. There has been no sign of agreement on that yet, however.
The West has accused Russia of targeting moderate opposition groups fighting Assad’s army, while Moscow has argued that many of those groups are just as dangerous as ISIL. The U.S. has listed the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, as a terrorist group, but some of its allies, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have seen it as a legitimate part of a prospective peace process that mustn’t be targeted.
Amid such differences and confusion, it’s hard to imagine how global players could reach consensus on a list of terror groups. Still, despite such obstacles, Russia, the U.S. and other participants in Syria peace talks have inched toward progress. A Russian peace plan calling for the start of peace talks between the opposition and the government at the start of 2016, drafting a new constitution and holding elections has served as the basis for talks.
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