Putin jockeying for deal with US on Syria
MOSCOW (AP) — Signs of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria have drawn U.S. concerns and raised questions of whether Moscow plans to enter the conflict. President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin's intentions.I don't really understand what Russia is doing, and I'm not sure anyone does. But the sooner the war in Syria ends, the better. The instability there if fueling ISIS and the flow of refugees. If working with Putin could undermine ISIS and bring the war to an end, it would be worth considering. In the larger picture, it might make more sense. Read the whole thing for links and more.
Since the Soviet times, Russia has had close political and military ties with Syria, which hosts a Russian navy facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus intended to service and supply visiting ships. While the Soviet-era facility has just a couple of floating piers along with a few rusting repair shops and depots, it has symbolic importance as the last remaining Russian military outpost outside the former Soviet Union.
Moscow has staunchly backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nation's 4 ½-year civil war, providing his regime with weapons and keeping military advisers in Syria. Putin said again Friday that Russia is providing the Syrian military with weapons and training.
Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there have been reports since mid-August of Russian troops in the capital's airport and another airport in the coastal city of Latakia.
"We don't know if they are troops or transporters of weapons and ammunition," he said, noting an increase in the flow of Russian weapons arriving in Syria since July.
Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, said Putin sees joining the anti-IS coalition as a chance to reach rapprochement with the West. "Russia has found itself in isolation, which has been increasingly felt," he said.
He said the latest reports about the movements of troops and military cargo to Syria appeared to demonstrate Moscow's readiness to join the coalition, falling short of a big-size deployment.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based analyst who specializes in military and security issues, said that the apparent increase in the Russian presence in Syria could be part of Kremlin efforts to raise the pressure on the U.S. to accept Putin's plan.
"Such a coalition ... would allow Assad's regime to survive and allow Russia to maintain its presence in the Middle East," he said.
If Russia ends up sending its military contingent to Syria, it will likely include a few combat jets along with support personnel and some troops to guard them, Felgenhauer said. Staying away from ground action would allow Russia to avoid any significant losses.
Alexei Malashenko, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office, was skeptical, saying that Putin's apparent plan to use Syria to improve ties with the West will be unlikely to succeed.
He warned that if Russia fails to strike a deal with the U.S. and tries to do it alone alongside Assad's forces, it would further damage its relations not just with the U.S. but regional powers. It will also likely trigger a negative public response, providing a painful reminder of the botched Soviet war in Afghanistan.
"It will not be received with joy here in Russia; everyone will compare it to Afghanistan," he said. "If they do it, it would be a very stupid thing. It's very simple to get in, but it could be quite difficult to get out."
Malashenko also warned that deploying Russian soldiers to fight the IS would draw risks of retaliation and raise the terror threat for Russia.
While launching unilateral action would be extremely risky, it's difficult to predict how Putin will act if his offer of joint action against the IS is rejected by Washington, Malashenko said.
"Putin is unpredictable, and he is very emotional," he said.
Who are these Russian fighters posting pics of themselves in Syria?
UPDATE: Look at this:
Germany's Merkel sees need to cooperate with Russia on Syria
Read the article. I think Angela knows which way the wind is blowing. I'm with her on this. But will Obama get on board?