The Washington Post reports: Russia’s expanding military intervention in Syria has the potential to tilt the course of the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leaving U.S. policies aimed at securing his departure in tatters and setting the stage for a new phase in the four-year-old conflict.
Exactly what Russia intends with its rapidly growing deployment of troops, tanks and combat aircraft in the Assad family heartland on Syria’s northern coast is difficult to discern, according to military experts and U.S. officials, who say they were not consulted on the Russian moves and were caught off guard by the intervention.
Already, however, the Russian activity has thrown into disarray three years of U.S. policy planning on Syria, derailing calculations about how the conflict would play out that may never have come to fruition and now almost certainly won’t.
Foremost among those was the expectation, frequently expressed by officials in the Obama administration, that both Iran and Russia would eventually tire of supporting the embattled Syrian regime and come around to the American view that Assad should step down as part of a negotiated transition of power. The conclusion of the nuclear talks with Iran in July further raised hopes that Washington and Tehran would also find common ground on Syria.
Instead, the arrival of hundreds of Russian marines, sophisticated fighter jets and armor at a newly expanded air base in the province of Latakia appears to signal a convergence of interests between Moscow and Tehran in support of Assad.
The intervention has given the regime a much-needed boost at a time when government loyalists had been losing ground to the opposition, and it has been broadly welcomed by Syria, Iran and their allies. [Continue reading…]