Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

Putin/Lavrov are running rings around Obama/Kerry in the the Middle East

October 5, 2016

Putin takes risks but Obama does not. But whereas Russia’s risk taking is based on some hard calculation of the probability of success, Obama and Kerry are obsessed with risk avoidance. So much so that US policy in Syria and against ISIS could be said to be “paralysis by analysis”. But the Russian risk-taking seems to be paying off.

analysis-paralysis

analysis-paralysis

  1. The Russian intervention started the decline of ISIS
  2. Putin has allied with Iran and Shi’ite interests while remaining on good terms with Netanyahu and Israel,
  3. Putin’s support of Assad, has forced the US supported rebel groups to ally themselves with terroris groups (Al-Nusra front),
  4. While the West has been criticising Erdogan’s purge of his opposition, a remarkable detente has developed between Russia and Turkey (which after the downing of the Russian fighter plane hardly seemed feasible),
  5. Sunni Arab states are so disillusioned with Washington and Russian influence has grown so much in the region, that they are now making overtures to Putin in spite of his support for the Shi’ites.
  6. Saudi Arabia has paused its oil war against Iran and Russia.

An insightful commentary in Reuters:

Putin’s Middle East gamble is paying dividends

Vladimir Putin has made an art of turning weakness into strength.  As Russian and Syrian forces pound Aleppo in the biggest assault of Syria’s five-year civil war, the Russian president clearly has emerged as a dominant force in the Middle East. ……..

…….. Over the last year, Putin has inserted Russia into the Syrian conflict and shored up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad as it was on the verge of collapse. The Russian leader has forged a quasi-military alliance with Iran that has allowed him to project power in the Persian Gulf – something that has evaded Moscow since the end of World War Two.

If that wasn’t enough, Putin’s relationship with Turkey, which seemed to be on a collision course after Ankara downed a Russian fighter jet last year, has now warmed to the point where Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan are about to restore full diplomatic relations. All the while Putin has maintained a close and productive relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

…………. 

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the United States has aligned its interest in the Persian Gulf with Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. In turn, these countries have invested heavily in the United States – from buying U.S. debt, to investing in real estate and buying billions of dollars in American military hardware.

Arab states have also invested heavily in Washington, buying influence in the corridors of power, funding think tanks and hiring public relations firms to help spread a narrative about why their countries are essential to America’s interest in the Middle East. The relationship between Riyadh and Washington remains particularly strong even as the American public questions the logic behind an alliance with a country whose actions often run counter to Washington’s interests. 

These countries feel that Washington is obligated to share their view of the Middle East, which means backing them regardless of whether any conflict they engage in is against the interest of the United States. They have no such influence in Moscow. Even as Moscow backs Shi’ite powerhouse Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, Sunni Arab leaders continue to court Putin and look for ways to collaborate with him. Saudi Arabia, for example is currently trying to coordinate with Moscow on how best to stabilize oil markets and want Putin to pressure Iran to do the same.

Russia’s partnerships are based on cold, hard realism. Putin’s sole aim is to further Moscow’s interest. He’s unburdened by a legacy of alliances that do not serve Russia’s strategic aims. He supports Damascus, Tehran and the Shi’ite government of Iraq because he views Sunni extremism as a long-term threat that has destabilized countries in the Middle East, and which he fears could wreak havoc in countries close to Russia’s borders. Yet this coordination and collaboration with Shi’ite Iran doesn’t preclude him from working with Sunni Arab states to promote trade for Russian industry and its atomic energy program. 

Putin is doing all of this while remaining close to Netanyahu. Even though Putin is working with Syria and Iran – Israel’s mortal enemies – he has convinced Netanyahu that these alliances are not meant to threaten Israel’s existence, but rather serve a larger purpose of defeating Sunni extremism. Russia continues to cooperate with Israel in diverse fields such as energy, agriculture and arms. Russia and Israel also maintain close military contacts and Putin is careful not to transfer offensive weapons to Israel’s foes.

Juxtapose this with how Netanyahu treated Obama and interferes in U.S. domestic politics. In the run-up to the Iran deal, Netanyahu used the influence of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbying organizations to try and undermine a sitting president and scuttle his signature foreign policy achievement.

If Israel or another U.S. ally tried to interfere or challenge Putin in such a manner, it’s difficult to imagine that he would reward them with $38 billion in aid for ten years, as Obama has done with Israel, or continue to support them militarily with advanced weapons and intelligence – as Washington has done with Saudi Arabia. …….

……….


 

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The Obama is the cabbage to Putin as the King .. and pigs indeed have wings

March 17, 2016

Lewis Carroll

The Walrus and the Carpenter
    Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
    Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
    And waited in a row.

`The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
    `To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
    Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
    And whether pigs have wings.’

Putin started his Syrian intervention on 29th September, 2015, much to to the astonishment of the Obama and his overpaid, idiot advisors. “It won’t work” cried the Obama. “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire …” They were even more astonished when, less than 6 months later, Putin ordered a withdrawal of Russian troops (while still maintaining his air bases and air-defense systems and enough troops to protect Russian assets).

cabbages and kings (Northern Echo)

cabbages and kings (Northern Echo)

But pigs have wings in Syria and Putin is proving himself to be the King to Obama’s cabbage.

Why — and how — Russia won in Syria

A day after Putin announced a Russian withdrawal from Syria, it’s clear that his gamble has turned into a major win for Moscow. Here’s what Russia achieved — and why it was so successful.

First — and most importantly — Russian bombing turned the tide of the war in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. When the Russian military deployed to Syria, Assad was in serious trouble, …….. Five months later, …. Assad clearly holds the military upper hand. ……“the Russian reinforcement has changed the calculus completely.”

……. Second, Putin recently achieved an important diplomatic objective by forcing the United States to acknowledge that Russia plays a key role in determining Syria’s future. …… The most recent ceasefire beginning on February 27, however, was negotiated in Geneva directly between the United States and Russia. Both sides agreed to act as equal guarantors for the ceasefire, and Obama concluded negotiations by speaking directly to Putin. As icing on the cake, Moscow recently forced Washington to renounce its position that “Assad must go,” with Secretary of State John Kerry stating “the United States and our partners are not seeking so-called regime change,” and that the focus was “not on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad.”

Third, Putin responded to Turkey’s shoot down of a Russian jet by humiliating Ankara, an emerging rival in the Middle East and Central Asia. Russia deployed advanced S400 surface-to-air missiles near Turkey. ….. Putin also grievously wounded Turkey’s key rebel allies and close ethnic cousins, the Syrian Turkmen. Turkmen rebels reportedly killed the Russian pilots shot down by Turkish jets, and bombing the Turkmen allows Putin to both avenge these deaths — thereby playing to Russian public opinion — while degrading the effectiveness of one of Assad’s enemies.

Putin also hit Turkey where it hurts by playing the “Kurdish card” against Ankara. ……… Russia, though, plays on Turkish fears by providing air support for YPG efforts to fully control the Turkish-Syrian border, ….

Finally, Putin’s Syrian campaign has contributed to weakening the European Union. …….. Russia “weaponizes” refugees by bombing civilian targets and supporting Assad’s troops, thereby causing a substantially greater inflow of refugees into Europe — up to 100,000 from the city of Aleppo alone. Meanwhile, resentment toward Germany’s open-door refugee policy produces rising anger across the EU, ……….

……. Washington’s Syrian policy, meanwhile, remains a hopeless muddle. At various points the Obama administration insisted that “Assad must go” — and that Assad can stay. ……. The United States’ search for moderate rebels led it to support the Free Syrian Army. But FSA militias sometimes tactically ally with al Qaeda’s Syrian branch — effectively putting Washington on the same side at times as the perpetrators of 9/11.

Washington’s Sunni allies have not exactly been trouble-free either. Vice President Joseph Biden publicly accused the Turks, Saudis and Qataris of arming Syrian militants, ………. 

The Obama administration’s proxy strategy epitomizes this confusion. One Pentagon program spent $500 million on a train and equip program …… and even then, the few trainees actually sent into Syria promptly turned their weapons over to al Qaeda.

……….. As Moscow exits the Syrian morass, the five-month-long military campaign represents a clear geopolitical win for Vladimir Putin. 

At least Obama will not be called upon to deal with ISIS in Libya. That is going to be left to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is more likely to be another cabbage and Donald Trump could be a total disaster but he has a tiny chance of turning out to be a King.


 

Six months of Russian intervention shows up 5 years of Obama’s ineptitude in Syria

March 13, 2016

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.

Canada Free Press:

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.

Syria conflict map 13th March 2016 Carter Center

Syria conflict map 13th March 2016 Carter Center

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.


 

Putin showed up – or was it his double?

March 16, 2015
Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev (left) with Mr Putin

The Kyrgyz president met Mr Putin in a sumptuous tsarist palace BBC

He seems to be slouching – which he does not usually do – and his face looks rather puffy to me. Is it Vladimir Putin or a double with heavy make-up?

 

Putin has not been seen in public for 10 days

March 15, 2015

He has not been seen in public since March 5th and speculation is rife. Being missing for a week-end would be rare but not unknown. Going AWOL for a week would be almost unheard of except for a well-planned holiday announced well in advance. But for a world leader to be “missing” for 10 days would suggest something quite unusual – and rather disturbing. An illness would either have to carry some kind of stigma or leave him unsightly not to have been announced.

  1. He is in Switzerland with his girl friend, gymnast Alina Kabayeva, for the birth of his “love-child”.
  2. He is under arrest after a secret coup by hard-liners who think he is being soft on Ukraine.
  3. He has the flu.
  4. He has bird flu or swine flu.
  5. He is undergoing a face-lift.
  6. He is being held for ransom and negotiations or ongoing over a price for the kidnappers to keep him.
  7. He is dead.

I am not quite sure how much more dangerous or destabilising a Russia without Putin might be. A public meeting with the leader of Kyrgystan is expected on Monday. If that does not happen ……….

Shale gas in Europe worries Putin

October 25, 2014

It might seem counter-intuitive for Russia to be against the advent and development of shale gas in Europe since they themselves have huge quantities of oil and gas bearing shale in SiberiaBut Russia has a very large investment in conventional natural gas production and pipelines (through Gazprom) which must be protected and nurtured. Putin needs to ensure revenues and that exports of conventional natural gas gives them a reasonable return on the investment before moving onto shale gas. About 30% of Europe’s gas comes from Russia. Russia needs Europe to go slow with its own shale gas production and to continue buying Russian gas at reasonably high prices for as long as possible. So much so that Russia has even been supporting anti-fracking groups in Europe. (It is a little ironic when the European anti-fracking alarmists take well disguised Russian funds and play into Russian hands).

The MotleyFoolNow there are accusations that Russia is working hard to keep Europe dependent on its gas supplies. According to Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Russia is doing this by funding anti-fracking groups. That’s something that some of the larger groups deny, but it would be hard to suss out where all of their donations come from in the anti-fracking movement.

There are good reasons for Russia to undertake such a covert operation. For starters, Gazprom would suffer greatly if its European business started to slip away. Second, by keeping Europe hooked on Gazprom gas, Russia maintains a strong bargaining position in world politics.

That, however, just gives the United States more reason to come to the aid of its European allies. Right now, the export of U.S. natural gas is severely limited. With the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the U.S., however, the flow of gas has outstripped demand and pushed U.S. domestic gas prices to record low levels.

While being able to sell natural gas to Europe would be a huge win for Europe politically and U.S. gas drillers financially, it would also be a big win for pipeline operators like Kinder Morgan (NYSE: KMI  ) . Moving natural gas from where it’s drilled to where it’s used made up roughly 50% of Kinder Morgan’s business last year. The business isn’t about natural gas prices, either; it’s about providing a service. CEO Richard Kinder describes it this way: “We operate like a giant toll road.” So, if natural gas starts going overseas, Kinder Morgan will be involved in the process and make money doing it.

The possibility of surplus shale gas from the US entering Europe and depressing sales of Russian natural gas is a nightmare economic scenario for Vladimir Putin. Even the recent drop in oil prices has seriously unbalanced the Russian budget which needs an oil price of over $100 to be in balance.

Putin takes part in final session of 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting

Putin at the 11th Valdai International Discussion Club meeting in Sochi

Putin is clearly worried. Russian President Vladimir Putin took part at the plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi. He talked up the risks with US shale gas to Europe and talking up the benefits of Russian gas.

TassPutin: Europe’s transition to American shale gas will be suicidal for EU economies

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that transition to shale gas will be suicidal for the EU economies. In his speech at the Valdai discussion club on Friday, Putin said that Russia’s trade turnover with the European Union stood at 260 billion dollars in the first half of 2014 even despite sanctions. He assumed, however, that the trade volumes could fall if Russia stopped all gas and oil supplies to Europe.

“We assume that it can happen at the will of our partners in Europe. But it’s hard to imagine,” Putin said, explaining that alternatives to Russian gas and oil supplies were worse.

It is either the crisis-hit Middle East where the “Islamic State” militants have stepped their operations or deliveries of shale gas and shale oil from the United States.

“We can imagine that /deliveries/ of shale oil and shale gas from the United States are possible. But how much it will cost?” Putin asked.

“This is going to be a direct way to reducing their own competitive ability because it is going to be more expensive than our pipe gas or oil delivered from deposits in Russia,” the Russian president went on to say.

“They are simply going to kill their competitive ability. What kind of a colony Europe should be to agree to this option. But I believe that common sense will prevail. The same is true of Asia,” Putin said in conclusion.

For very many reasons the very best thing that Europe (and Asia) could do would be to expedite the production of their own shale gas. It would bring down energy prices, stimulate growth, increase jobs, increase independence from Russia, increase exports, increase competitiveness against the US and consolidate energy intensive industries which are moving out. But this would have to overcome the opposition of the alarmist, European green parties who have a remarkable facility for being counter-productive.

Opposing the development of shale gas in Europe gives Russia the edge on the geopolitical playing field.

Novorossiya: Putin calculates that Obama will bark and show his teeth but will not bite

August 31, 2014

Putin did not cause the descent of Ukraine into anarchy. That was the EU and the US respectively trying to expand the boundaries of Europe and NATO. The EU sold the “benefits” of joining Europe very hard and raised expectations in the country which no President could live up to. In the process they supported the opposition to the elected (but disliked) President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. That included substantial support for Ukraine’s neo-Nazi, nationalist Right Sector. The EU bureaucrats in Brussels were elated at the potential for expanding the EU. Catherine Ashton and John Kerry were so full of themselves and their “success” in spreading democracy that they miscalculated the consequences. Yanukovych was toppled in February 2014 and the EU and the US celebrated. But the Right Sector lost no time in “pushing” and pressurising the Russian speakers especially in Eastern Ukraine. The push-back started and Crimea “voted” to join Russia. Russia ratified the decision and effected the transition on the ground. The EU and the US responded with sanctions. A missile fired by Russian separatists – perhaps aimed at a Ukraine military aircraft flying in the shadow of a commercial jet – brought down Malaysian flight 17. Sanctions were extended. The EU made noises. Obama demonstrated his risk aversion when even the atrocities by ISIS did not lead to any action by the US beyond a few drone attacks.

And so Putin has probably made his calculation that while Obama is by no means toothless, he will bark and show his teeth and foam at the mouth, but he will not bite. NATO will not start a war in Europe except as the tail of a belligerent US. The EU has 28 members and 28 strategies and no real leadership.

The US and EU have now established that regime-change of a government they disapprove of is a legitimate justification for the use of force. Vladimir Putin and Russia and China have taken notice. And the regime-change started by the US and the EU in February 2014 will probably be brought to some kind of conclusion (for the time being) as Putin establishes Novorossiya.

Novorossiya - graphic Washington Post

Novorossiya – graphic Washington Post

Whatever is left of Ukraine will be land-locked and Putin will again have control of the Black Sea.

Putin’s Sochi is “ready” but journalists are missing their basic luxuries!

February 5, 2014

Putin’s winter games open in Sochi on Friday and journalists have started arriving. But Putin is probably a little indignant that they are nowhere near as hardy as he is and expect all manner of luxuries ranging from

View image on Twitter

Twitter image Harry Reekie @CNN

  • one room per person (Putinities can manage with 11/room)
  • curtains
  • toilet paper
  • heating
  • internet
  • elevators that work
  • running water
  • hotel lobbies
  • reception desk
  • water safe to wash in
  • water safe to drink
  • flooring
View image on Twitter

Twitter image @wyshynski

ReutersRussian officials have declared Sochi ready for the Games, on which President Vladimir Putin has staked his and his country’s reputation. But days before they open on Friday, the organizers acknowledge that not all the new hotels are ready, despite the Games’ $50-billion price tag. ……. 

macho putin

Although no athletes are affected, officials from two countries said they were turned away when they arrived at night in Krasnaya Polyana because their hotels were not ready. They too have been temporarily moved elsewhere.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has urged the Russian organizers to sort out the problems quickly and says only about three percent of the newly built accommodation – around 700 rooms – are not ready for guests.

Macho Putin is not impressed by these namby-pamby types. 

Related posts:

Sochi Winter Olympics: Champions of Corruption

Economic model predicts Olympic medals at 2014 Sochi winter games

Comments by limerick (2)

December 23, 2013

A family function led to some “scandalous” limericks being written about other family members (who were not present of course). It soon became obvious that putting together the rhymes – even with very free rhyming – and keeping the overall theme intact was not as easy as it seemed.

Finishing a limerick is eminently satisfying and these are written entirely for myself with no particular audience in mind.

1.

Vladimir Putin the Tsar of all Russia,

Fancied himself the Peacemaker of Syria,

But he had not anticipated,

That European policy was constipated,

And the winner of all Syria is now Al Qaida

2

Marks and Spencer, the epitomy of Britishness,

Decided to cow down to political correctness,

“Sensitive” muslims employed to work,

Need no longer serve customers with alcohol and pork,

Leading to ridicule for the iconic M’en’ess.

3.

George Walker Bush, he of Iraq in-fame,

In 2003 claimed the end of the game,

But as has now become bloody obvious,

He achieved nothing to any purpose,

And then in Afghanistan, Cameron did the same

4.

Barack Obama – he of questionable birth,

Pushed insurance for all, for all he was worth,

But incompetence and foolishness were rife,

As his web site caused confusion and strife

And his poster policy became an object of mirth.

5.

Francois Hollande, a rabid die-hard socialist,

Was chosen by the French to replace Sarkozy the chauvinist,

But he had no money for the war,

He waged in Mali and now in CAR.

And is now begging for a fund from capitalists.

Assad’s gambit but is it Putin’s end-game being played out in Syria?

November 10, 2013

The Hindu carries an interesting editorial on Assad’s Gambit:

In extending his cooperation to the OPCW – which has until June 2014 to oversee the elimination of Syria’s chemical stockpile – President Bashar al-Assad has signalled his indispensability to a diplomatic settlement. Mr. Assad has underlined that not only is he in control but he is also willing to make tactical concessions. The odds are now stacked heavily against the Syrian rebels. After the United States shelved its plan to intervene militarily, opposition groups have had to reconcile themselves to the option of sharing power with Damascus. That al-Qaeda and other terror outfits have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks has also substantially diminished the support they initially received from the West. Not surprisingly, many of the rebel factions have expressed their reluctance to participate in the “Geneva 2” diplomatic conference scheduled for later this year. Mr. Assad, on the other hand, has made the Syrian government’s participation contingent on his being allowed to complete a full term in office.

Paradoxically it is the destruction of his chemical weapons which has made Assad an indispensable part of the solution. If it was one of the rebel groups (Al Qaida or a group supported by Turkey or by Iran or by Saudi Arabia or by the Kurds or by the Muslim Brotherhood) which actually did use the chemical weapons (Sarin gas) in September, then their ploy has misfired spectacularly. If it was Assad’s forces which released the gas (whether with or without his knowledge), it has certainly brought matters to a head and – also spectacularly –  shifted the course of this civil war. Syrian Opposition became “armed rebels” and are now equated with “terrorists”. From being about Assad’s repression and justified opposition the conflict is being transformed to Assad versus the terrorists.

Keeping score in the Great Syria Chess Game is not easy and when the chemical inspectors were called in I wrote

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov are winning. The diplomatic path is now their creation. Suddenly Russia is the peace-maker in the face of US war-mongering! Not only was the US strike on their ally delayed indefinitely, it is now Assad’s Syria – and not the various opposition groups – which is required to engage with the international community. Any opposition forces who seem to be coming in the way of inspecting or securing control of the chemical weapons can now be attacked by Assad with the full support of the international community. Russia can continue supplying Syria with conventional weapons. ….

Bashar al-Assad is winning. He does not really need chemical weapons which cannot effectively be used anyway. Any US strike on his forces is postponed indefinitely. With no prospect of any no-fly zone being declared his air-force could be decisive in the civil war. The supply of conventional weapons from Russia is assured. His claim that rebels and terrorists were responsible for the use of Sarin is backed up by Russia and the UN weapons inspectors have no option but to investigate this (and they are on their way back to Syria).

But I think the Hindu is wrong to think that it is merely the infiltration of rebel groups by Al Qaida which has damaged their support from the West. The point is that the rebel groups supported and supplied by so many surrounding countries are not a home-grown opposition but are essentially a collection of mercenary groups fighting proxy wars for many players. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in particular were and are heavily involved – and may even have been instrumental in starting the armed conflict. Now of course Iran and the Kurds and the Muslim Brotherhood are providing succour and support for their pet groups. Al Qaida has its fighters from all over the region (and from radicalised youth in the West) trying to attain eternal salvation through martyrdom. The EU and the US supply arms through third parties to a variety of the rebel groups – and it often seems they have no idea who the arms are going to. Russia supplies Assad. Israel no doubt stirs the pot whenever it can and using whichever faction is available to maintain the turmoil.

As Aron Lund writes in his report,Divided they Stand” An Overview of Syria’s Political Opposition Factions

The opposition landscape is so fragmented and disconnected, that there is little clarity even among activists themselves about what groups and coalitions are truly effective or enjoy popular support. ….

While it is unlikely that any of today’s political opposition groups will control the future Syria, they are likely to play a significant role in a future transition phase or reconciliation process. Regardless of who rules Syria in the future – the current regime, breakaway elite factions, a government installed with foreign backing, or armed rebels – they will need to connect with the political opposition to legitimize their own position.

Assad’s Gambit may be paying off but it is just a few moves within the Putin initiated defence. Whether the Putin defence also has an end-game in mind is as yet difficult to discern. It may just lead to a stalemate and a long drawn-out conflict. It may lead – in the best scenario – to a gradual political transition where Assad has an “honourable” discharge and exile waiting for him sometime late next year.

There are no longer any outright victories in sight in this multi-dimensional chess game where the rules keep changing. But if there is any overall direction to this end-game it is probably coming from Putin and Lavrov. Whether Obama and Kerry are playing the game, or are just bystanders providing infrastructure for the playing of the game remains to be seen. The EU is almost as divided as the Syrian opposition and are very good at mouthing platitudes. The dilemma that the US and the EU face is that support for secular forces in Syria is inevitably support for Assad. Support for any armed rebel group is also support for Islamist jihadists.


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