Putin supports Assad in ‘fighting terrorism’

CBS News: Charlie Rose: So you would like to join the United States in the fight against ISIS? That’s part of why you’re there [in Syria]. Others think that while that may be part of your goal, you’re trying to save the Assad administration because they’ve been losing ground and the war has not been going well for them. And you’re there to rescue them.

Vladimir Putin (through translator): Well, you’re right. And it’s my deep belief that any actions to the contrary in order to destroy the legitimate government will create a situation which you can witness now in the other countries of the region or in other regions, for instance in Libya, where all the state institutions are disintegrated. We see a similar situation in Iraq.

And there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform. [Continue reading…]

Aron Lund writes: the Kremlin has every reason to continue blurring the already indistinct dividing line between “extremist” and “moderate” rebels upon which Western states insist. Even though this neatly black and white categorization of Syria’s murky insurgency is at least partly fiction, it remains a politically indispensable formula for Western states that wish to arm anti-Assad forces. Which is precisely why erasing this distinction by extending airstrikes against all manners of rebels as part of an ostensibly anti-jihadi intervention, may turn out to be Putin’s long-term plan.

Blanket attacks on Syrian rebels on the pretext that they are all “al-Qaeda” would lead to much outraged commentary in the Western and Arab press. But to the Russian president it doesn’t matter if you think he’s Mad Vlad or Prudent Putin. He isn’t trying to win hearts and minds, least of all those of the Syrian rebels or their backers. Rather, he is trying to change the balance of power on the ground while firing missile after missile into the West’s political narrative.

Whatever one thinks of that, it is a big and bold idea of the sort that sometimes end up working. [Continue reading…]

While Putin reinforces the perception that the Assad regime is inseparable from the Syrian state, Scott Lucas writes: In Syria, the “state” and the “regime” are not the same thing. The state is the apparatus that administers the country and provides services, including education, health, and official papers that allow Syrians to marry, register property, or travel outside the country. The regime is a collection of informal networks based on personal, family, community, religious, and other ties that control the upper ranks of the state apparatus.

Before the uprising, most Syrians had an informal understanding of this distinction, particularly in areas of the country where social services were well-provided. In short, they were able to draw a line between the local branch of the Ministry of Water Resources, to which they could appeal if they had problems with their water supply, and the plainclothes officer from the Political Security Directorate who came inquiring at their door.

During the war, the regime has managed to blur this distinction to its advantage. [Continue reading…]

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