The Washington Post reports: Four months after launching airstrikes in Syria, the Kremlin is confident that Moscow’s largest overseas campaign since the end of the Soviet Union is paying off.
Under the banner of fighting international terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has reversed the fortunes of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were rapidly losing ground last year to moderate and Islamist rebel forces in the country’s five-year-old crisis. Government forces are now on the offensive, and last week, they scored their most significant victory yet, seizing the strategic town of Sheikh Miskeen from rebels who are backed by a U.S.-led coalition.
According to analysts and officials here, the Russian government believes it has won those dividends at a relatively low cost to the country’s budget, with minimal loss of soldiers’ lives and with largely supportive public opinion.
“The operation is considered here to be quite successful,” said Evgeny Buzhinsky, a retired lieutenant general and senior vice president of the Russian Center for Policy Studies in Moscow. It could probably continue for one year or longer, he said, “but it will depend on the success on the ground.”
Whether the benefits of Russia’s gambit to put soldiers on the ground in Syria will continue long term remains to be seen. President Obama warned last year that Russia was entering a “quagmire” reminiscent of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it is unclear when Moscow could declare victory and whether it has an exit strategy.
But as Assad’s forces push forward and as diplomatic talks in Geneva broke off in recriminations Wednesday after just two days, there is little pressure right now on the Kremlin to pull back. [Continue reading…]