Russian military intervention in the Syrian civil war appeared to gain momentum every day over the past month, up until President Vladimir Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly on September 28th. The intention behind moving troops and equipment to Syria, while denying these deployments, was quite possibly to build momentum for Putin’s initiative. The content of this initiative has been clear since early August, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed building a broad international coalition against the so-called “Islamic State” (or ISIS). Yet, the proposal fell flat. It looked fairly agreeable until the point that this coalition should include forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime.
This was plainly unacceptable to most stakeholders in Syrian conflict management, ineffectual as it has been, so Putin’s furious networking never made much sense. He met with King Abdullah of Jordan andEgypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, tried to charm Saudi princes and to appeal to an old friendship with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but found no takers to his suggestion that only the “legitimate” government could restore stability to devastated Syria. Yet, he persisted with pushing this hopeless initiative assuming that he would be able to make, if not a significant impact as with the September 2013 initiative on Syria’s chemical disarmament, then at least a strong impression.
What underpinned this Russian initiative was a deepening state of confusion resulting from Western as well as regional policies in managing the Syrian catastrophe. The US administration had to admit the embarrassing failure in training and equipping anything resembling even a battalion of moderate opposition forces. The EU was hit by a wave of refugees so great that its migration policy and the very principle of solidarity were badly shaken. Neither the US nor the EU could draft the beginnings of a feasible plan for addressing the crisis at its core. The latest French air strikes on ISIS are perhaps symbolically important but hardly any more effective than the US air campaign. Turkey seeks to combine limited strikes on ISIS targets with a more determined application of force against the Kurdish groupings and is yet again provoking a violent destabilisation of its own Eastern provinces.
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