Russia began its current intervention in Syria on September 30th last year, whereas the US began its anti-Assad campaign in 2011:
……… with the financing, training and encouragement of selected “moderate rebels”. They have no doubt weakened Assad but have also been instrumental in creating ISIS.
The Russian intervention has had a focus and an end-game in mind, both of which were missing from the US/NATO “strategy”. The “ceasefire” that is currently in place allows Russia (and Assad) to continue operating against the “terrorists” (ISIS, Al Nusra…) who are not party to the ceasefire. The US is now just following Russia’s lead much to the chagrin of the many Sunni opposition groups and of Saudi Arabia.
The only objective which Obama and Kerry ever had in Syria was to remove Assad but they had no strategy either for that or for what would follow. In Syria, Vladimir Putin has highlighted Obama’s ineptitude.
On February 27, 2016, a ceasefire went into effect in Syria between the forces of the Assad regime and the opposition. The ceasefire was achieved after the United States and Russia reached understandings regarding the terms of the agreement; Bashar al-Assad and the representatives of the opposition who took part in the contacts accepted its terms; and the ceasefire was grounded in a UN Security Council resolution.
The Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other jihadist rebel groups are not party to the ceasefire, and Russia and the United States have agreed that they would continue fighting them in cooperation with one another. In actuality, the ceasefire was reached as a result of the combined efforts of the two superpowers currently engaged in leading the campaign for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. All the other actors are dependent on the assistance of these two powers and are subject to their influence.
In order to translate its military achievements in the Syrian arena into achievements in the realm of international politics, Russia worked intensively to advance the ceasefire along two parallel channels. The first channel was operational – specifically, a joint air and ground offensive against rebel forces aimed at exhausting them, carried out by a pro-Assad coalition including Iran, Syrian military forces that are loyal to Assad, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias. The severe damage sustained by the rebel forces is what brought them to the negotiating table. The second channel focused on advancing a political process, primarily vis-à-vis the United States, but also Saudi Arabia.
Moscow sought to promote the political dialogue while it enjoyed the upper hand on the military battlefield and was able to dictate the outcome of the process. Russia translated its achievements on the ground into a political roadmap for a cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a transitional period toward a solution to the conflict within 18 months. Russian policy with regard to the Syrian crisis was also motivated by Russia’s aspiration to promote its standing within the international arena and reduce the Western foreign and economic pressure leveled against it following its actions in Ukraine. In this context, Moscow led the joint offensive of the forces of the pro-Assad coalition in an effort to demonstrate its determination and to create pressure on the West and on Turkey by means of a massive flight of refugees toward Turkey from the embattled areas. It is unclear whether Russia received anything in return from the contacts that took place behind the scenes between Washington and Moscow, such as an easing of the Western sanctions.
The Russian intervention has seen the ISIS expansion halted and reversed. They have secured breathing space for the Assad regime though they expect to have him replaced in an orderly manner in time. ISIS will shift (is already shifting) to Libya which is in chaos (for which Obama passes the buck to Cameron and Sarkozy). The EU with its shambles of a refugee policy is providing the sink which swallows the bulk of those displaced.
The real Middle East end-game is a very long way away but Russia is reaching its immediate objectives of supporting the Syrian regime, halting the march of Sunni- groups, restraining the ambitions of Saudi Arabia and of getting in the good books of Iran.
The US and Europe will still have to handle ISIS in Libya but here they will not have the Russians to rescue them.