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Monday, November 2, 2015

Russia masquerades a moderate international powerbroker, while the Obama Administration belatedly attempts to protect U.S. interests.

Links: U.S. troops "on the ground" have usual rules of engagement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is aggressively pursuing a policy that is intended to re-mold Russia's international image.  For the greater part of the Ukrainian crisis, Putin was faced with regular difficulties complicated by Russia's image as the aggressor in the conflict.  When the Russians originally demonstrated their intention to militarily support de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the question was, to what extent?  Russia has been a long-time ally of Assad, his predecessor father, former President Hafez al-Assad, and the Syrian Ba'ath Party apparatus, and Vladimir Putin's desire for a Russian naval base on the Mediterranean is no secret.  How far would Russia go to prop up Assad?  When considering this issue, I was missing out on the greater plan that Russia was putting into place.  In order to understand Putin's motivations in Syria, it is necessary to understand Russia's international ambitions.  First, lets examine Russia's diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis some of the bit players in this drama.

  Russia has softened it tone in all its diplomatic conversations, and is portraying itself as moderate and much less militarily focused as in the past.  This may seem like a hard sell, given that Russian jets are currently pounding targets in Syria.  But Putin has been successful in shifting world opinion to the idea that Russia is truly interested in destroying ISIS, and that support for Assad is secondary.  Certainly no one would accuse Russia of wanting to annex Syria as they Crimea.  Russia has targeted U.S. allies Jordan, Egypt and Iraq as part of its campaign to "co-opt" U.S. supporters in the region.  Although the U.S. has recently made attempts to defend its traditional turf, the Russians had weeks to chip away at the pro-U.S. attitude in all three nations.  In particular, Russia wants to perpetuate the idea that United States is no longer willing to support its allies in serious times of crisis.  The knowledge that the Obama Administration is theoretically opposed to large-scale military action is no secret, and these "at risk" countries know that ISIS can only be defeated by a full-on, large scale military commitment, similar to the one the Russians are making in Syria.  The comparison makes itself.  In fact, the pronouncements of the last few days have come in response to Russian activity.  The international community is catching on to something that many of us have known for a some time; that the Obama Administration, all the way back to the days of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is intent on being REACTIVE, as opposed to PROACTIVE.

In eastern Europe, Russia has also mended a few diplomatic fences and won some important electoral victories.  A number of towns and communities in eastern Ukraine elected pro-Russian representatives, which was a blow to efforts by Kiev to take the electoral momemtum before any serious referendums are planned.  The results also take pressure off Russia regarding the current ceasefire.  If fighting breaks out again, Kiev won't be able to accuse Russia and its Donbas separatist allies from trying to refocus world attention after disappointing election results.  Most important, and visible from the beginning of Russia's direct military involvement in Syria, is the creation of a Russian client-state in Iran.  Everyday it becomes more apparent that these two former adversaries have become BFFs, with Iran going so far as to deploy volunteer "militia" members to fight alongside Lebanese Hezbollah in Syria.  Russia successfully lobbied to have Iran invited to an upcoming major international conference on the conflict in Syria.  This is the first time that Iran has been invited to a conference of this importance.  The question is, why was Iran invited?  They do not share a border with Syria, although they have been strong allies of Bashar al-Assad.  An even more prescient question? Instead of an invitation to attend the conference, why wasn't Iran issued an invitation to remove its "militiamen" from Syria?

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