Russian escalation in Syria — context and consequences

Paul Salem writes: Internationally, Putin has been seeking to roll back the West’s weakening and isolation of Russia that occurred after the end of the Cold War. The war in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea and Ukraine in 2014 flew in the face of the West’s attempts to bring NATO all the way to Russia’s doorstep. And the move to rebuild a strong military presence in Syria is a response to two and a half decades of U.S. monopolization of war and peace in the Middle East. Russia’s new presence in Syria indicates that it is not just a regional power in Eastern Europe and the Arctic but also a global player that is able and willing to project military power in areas well beyond the Russian motherland.

Regionally, Russia might also be in the process of rebuilding a regional alliance it lost decades ago. The conclusion of the P5 +1 deal removes the taboo of working with Iran and enables Russia to move forward with open strategic and military coordination with Iran, particularly in Syria. The deal might also have encouraged Russia’s move into Syria in that Russia, like Turkey and other countries in the Gulf, could not rule out an Iranian-American rapprochement after the deal that would again have left Russia sidelined in the Middle East. Russia’s move revives an old Soviet-Syrian strategic and military relationship that had lapsed over the past decades.

In Iraq, for the time being, the United States remains the main global military partner of the Iraqi armed forces, but with closer Iranian-Russian ties, it is possible that Iraq could drift steadily away from Washington and closer to Moscow. It is no coincidence that Iran used its influence in Iraq to weaken and sideline the Pentagon-trained national army, and Iran is uncomfortable with any major U.S. role in rebuilding the national army. So either the national army will remain weak, or it will have to find another global partner. Russia could step into that role. Indeed, the new Russian presence in Syria is a strong signal to Baghdad that Russia is back in the Middle East and willing to rebuild old alliances. [Continue reading…]

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