Why the Russians aren’t likely to break with Assad

Vali Nasr writes: By punishing Syria for its use of chemical weapons, President Donald Trump effectively broke with Barack Obama’s foreign policy toward the Middle East. In a bit of irony for a committed anti-interventionist, Trump enforced Obama’s red line in Syria against the use of chemical weapons, ending the U.S. prohibition on military strikes targeting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. This is not necessarily the start of a larger American war in Syria, but it could be the beginning of the end of the Syrian conflict.

For opponents of Assad who hope Washington will seek regime change in Damascus, news of the strikes on a Syrian airbase was welcome. The Trump administration may not escalate much further, but some expect it to push Russian President Vladimir Putin to break with Assad. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Secretary of State of Rex Tillerson have, in turn, called Moscow either complicit in Assad’s chemical attack, as at least one U.S. official has alleged, or incompetent in fulfilling the promise of preventing it. Either way, Tillerson is expected to use his visit to Moscow this week to demand Russia break with Assad.

But the promise of a break is wishful thinking. The chemical attack and the retaliatory U.S. strike may have embarrassed and angered Russia—even if it was given heads up, as reporting suggests—but they’ve given Putin no reason to turn on Assad. [Continue reading…]

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