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10/18/2015 Assadland,aRussianprotectorateCONTRIBUTOR

Assadland,aRussianprotectorate
MARCPIERINI

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Onlyafewweeksago,theal
AssadregimeseemedindangeroflosingtheswathoflandfromLatakiatoDamascustothe
assaultsoftheIslamicStateofIraqandtheLevant(ISIL),JabatalNusraand
others.Today,Russiahastakenoverandbroughtinheavyweapons.NotonlycanBasharal
Assadbreatheasighofrelief,buttheentireSyriansceneshouldnowberevisitedfromthree
differentangles.

First,thisisaboutrescuingalAssadfromtheedgeofacliff.Thehypothesisoftheentire
countryfallingtoISILandthealAssadsfleeingtoSochiisnowimplausible.AlAssadisinsafe
hands.IfeverrebelgroupsstillwanttoconquerSyriaswest,theirunlimitedviolencewillbe
metbytheRussianarmy,nottheteeteringregimeforces.

Butthisisnotjustaboutrescuingoneman.ByestablishingastrategicpresenceinSyria,
PresidentVladimirPutinissecuringthefutureofavitalallyintheMiddleEast,onethathas
longhaditsmilitarytrainedandequippedbyRussia,andmakingwesternSyriaintoRussias
strategicbaseintheMiddleEast.

Thisnewsituationraisesanumberofquestions.

Oneistheantiterroristbrandingoftheoperation.Officially,Moscowpresentsitssupporttoal
Assad,pastandpresent,asitscontributiontofightingterrorism,especiallyfromISIL.Thisisa
faintexcuseasalAssadnotonlycreatedthejihadistgroupbyfreeingdozensofprisonersfrom
theSednayaPrisonnearDamascusbutalsofailedtotakeonISILseriously.Deepdown,
isRussiareallyintentoneliminatingISIL,ordoesitwanttouseitasthescarecrowthatmakes
alAssadlooktolerable?

AnotherquestionisthedefactoalliancethissituationcreatesbetweentheU.S.ledcoalition,
Iran,andRussiaagainstISIL.WillthesealliesnowcoordinatestrikesagainstISILtargets?Or
willtheyonlytryavoidingaccidentalmishaps?HowwillIransPasdaranandHezbollahfighters
presentonSyriansoilinteractwithRussianforces?HowwilltheU.S.trainedandequipped
rebels,orwhatsleftofthisembarrassingventure,fitintothisnewequation?Willthisalterthe
(limited)FrenchandBritishplansforstrikingISILinSyria?HowwillIsraeltoleratemore
sophisticatedweaponrysoclosetohome?

Asasideeffect,RussiasmoveneutralizesAnkarasadamantambitionstoremovealAssad
frompower.Ironically,italsoprovidesasighofreliefforPresidentFranoisHollande,who
narrowlyavoidedtheembarrassmentofseeingtheFrenchbuiltMistralshipsparticipatingin
thebuildup,hadthesalenotbeencanceled.

ThesecondangleisRussiasstrategicmilitarypresenceintheMiddleEast.Sofar,Russiahas
hadonlyalimitedfootprintinSyria,mainlythenavalmaintenancefacilityinTartus.Thisis
nowbeingexpandedintoamorestrategicfoothold.Predictably,therunwayatLatakiaairport
willbedoubledinlengthtomakeitusablebytheheaviestAntonovcargoplanesandthe
fastestfighterbomberaircraftairdefenseswillbebeefedupheavyarmorwillbedeployed
aircontrolcapacitywillbeenhancedandnewairtogroundmissileswillbeprovidedtothe
Syrianairforce.
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10/18/2015 Assadland,aRussianprotectorateCONTRIBUTOR

Inthisway,Putin,whohadaccuratelyanalyzedPresidentBarackObamasreluctantwarrior
attitudeinAugust2013,cansafelyconsiderthatthescenarioofafullscaleWestern
interventioninSyria,ifiteverseriouslyexisted,isnowshelved.InU.S.SenatorJohnMcCains
words,RussiaiscapitalizingonAmericaninaction.Toputitdifferently,Putinhaseliminated
hisnightmarescenarioofaWesterninterventionlikethatinLibyain2011,andtheriskof
seeinghisallymurderedbyunrulyrebelsinunspeakableconditions,asMoammarGadhafiwas.
GonealsoistheoptionfortheTurkishAirForcetomakeforaysintoalAssadsairspace,asin
June2012.

ThethirdangleistheworldwidediplomaticdimensionoftheRussiantakeoverofsortsinSyria.
Evenbeforethemilitarybuildupisfullydocumented,theRussianprotectorateofwestern
SyriagivesatangiblerealitytoMoscowsconceptofanewinternationalorder.Or,expressedin
aRussianperspective,itputsanendtotheWesternpropensitytounilaterallyimposeitsown
worldorder.

ToitssnapannexationofCrimeaanddominanceofeasternUkraine,Russiaisnowadding
Assadland.Indoingso,itisshowingtherestoftheworldthatithasthecapacitytoredefine
theinternationalorder,oratleastthegutstoactasspoilerinchief.

WhetherISILisquicklydefeatedalongthewayhaslittleimportanceforRussia.Moscows
presenceinwesternSyriawillsimplybeusedinternationally,firstandforemostatthe
forthcomingU.N.GeneralAssembly,toprovethatRussiacanproposeitsownsolutions,inthis
case,anewpeaceplanforSyriawithnoneotherthanalAssadatthehelm.

OnSept.28,PutinsU.N.speechonthejointstruggleagainstterrorism(asbrandedbyTASS
agency)willnodoubtbeseenasutterlycynicalbymanyWesternpoliticians.ButforPutin,it
willbeagloriousmoment.Braceforimpact.

*MarcPieriniisavisitingscholaratCarnegieEuropeandaformerEUambassador.
September/22/2015

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