That Silly “Chilly” Syria Piece Does Not Get Russia’s Strategic Aim

According to the New York Times:

Bashar al-Assad Finds Chilly Embrace in Moscow Trip.

That headline of that page A1 piece awoke my interest because the White House clearly had a different impression than the New York Times scribes:

We view the red carpet welcome for Assad, …

If this was a “chilly embrace” why was there a “red carpet welcome”? And what about that exclusive dinner?

Senior Russian officials joined Mr. Putin and Mr. Assad for dinner including the defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu; the prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev; and Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister.

Was that also “chilly”? Was the borscht served cold?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 20. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Oct. 20. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin via Reuters

There is nothing in the “chilly” headlined piece that supports the claim made in the headline. Indeed not Russian or Syrian voice in it and all who are quoted have no more knowledge about the meetings than anyone who read the news agency reports. The whole thesis is taken from “chilly” air.

Mr. Putin’s military has forcefully intervened to shore up Mr. Assad’s government in its struggle against an array of insurgents, but, even as Mr. Assad flew secretly to Moscow on Tuesday night for a meeting to assess the fighting in Syria, the chilly personal relationship between the two men has not changed, according to officials, diplomats and analysts.

Up to that paragraph there is nothing in the piece that actually establish that Putin and Assad had or have a “chilly personal relationship”. There might well have no personal relationship at all. The two have only seen each other once before, in 2005.

By all accounts, the two leaders remain distant and wary of each other.

But what are those accounts:

“It’s not personal, this whole thing,” said Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, referring to Mr. Putin’s intervention. The highest priority of the Russians, he said, has been saving the central authority of the Syrian state as much as Mr. Assad himself in hopes of stemming the spread of chaos and, with it, the fertile ground in which the Islamic State can take root.

“To them, Assad is not a sacred cow,” Mr. Trenin added. “The issue to them is to save the Syrian state, to prevent it from unraveling the way Libya unraveled, Yemen unraveled.”

Fine. So what is “chilly” about that?

“Not being wedded to Assad does not mean that they’re prepared to negotiate a way for him to go,” said a senior administration official in Washington

Correct. And not “chilly”.

“There’s not much chemistry in the relationship,” said one long-serving Western diplomat in the region.

Yeah. How could there be when they met only once before ten years ago?

Mr. Assad has, in fact, proved at times to be a reluctant partner in Russia’s efforts to end the conflict. He has stood up on many occasions to the Kremlin, to the extent that diplomats and analysts say it has irritated Mr. Putin.“I think they know how confused the Assad regime is, and they’re frustrated by it,” said Andrew J. Tabler, an expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has followed the conflict closely, referring to the Russians.

So the Israel lobby is asked to add to the spin even those Tabler knows nothing about Russia or the relations between Putin and Assad.

The whole spin in that “chilly” piece is without any sources or examples that support the claim. Russia and Syria might have, at times, different views? Of course they have. But they are allies, fight together against common enemies and value each others’ contribution. A red carpet and a first class dinner with the most important people of the Russian state bear witness to that.

There is actually no hint at all from Russia or Syria that Russia would make Assad go or that Assad is seeking exile in Moscow. All such talk is silly spin. Russia will fight together with Syria until the Islamist threat is reduced and the Syrian state re-stabilized. There will then be some new government that includes some non-violent opposition members and that government will prepare for new elections to the parliament and for the president. Assad may be one of the candidates and may even win. That and not much less is, I believe, what Russia is willing to settle for.

The main strategic (and value) issue for Russia is to not condone any more U.S. induced “regime change” by “color revolutions” or by force. To end the unilateral catastrophic misbehavior in foreign policies that has become a U.S. habit. That is the most important and often repeated point president Putin has made. No more unilateral regime changes. He again made that point today at the Valdai Club meeting.

If Russia would let Assad fall it would concede “regime change” in Syria to Washington. It can not see Putin, or any other Russian president, do that. Not under any currently thinkable circumstance.

Originally published: b (Moon of Alabama)

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