• Why Putin is Playing Nice

    The chess pieces of Putin's war
    War games (Photo by Jason Leung)

    The Syrian Civil War. Pretty clear-cut, right? A brutal dictatorship propped up by Putin’s Russia. Grinding to a conclusion. Nothing to see here.

    September 17. Two events: a deal between President Putin of Russia and President Erdogan of Turkey to halt the offensive on the final rebel stronghold of Idlib and the downing of a Russian surveillance plane off the Syrian coast during an Israeli operation against a Syrian air base.

    Being friends with Russia

    Russia and Assad are like that ????.

    An offensive against the last rebel stronghold? Actually, no.

    A Russian plane downed during an Israeli air raid. Actually, no.

    Imagine how comfy Assad is feeling right now: he’s heard that his offensive to take the last rebel stronghold in Syria isn’t happening. And he’s heard that a Russian plane with 15 servicemen aboard was shot down not by Israeli jets attacking a Syrian air base, but by Syrian antiaircraft fire.

    Keeping your friends on their toes

    My article for Fair Observer explains just why Putin was happy to cut a deal with Turkey on Idlib.

    As for the Israelis: they did fly a mission very close to the flightpath of the Russian plane, they did give less than a minute’s warning to Russia about the operation, and they may well have used the plane as cover against Syrian antiaircraft fire.

    But the measured response from Putin reveals everything about the Syrian Civil War. Assad is not an end for Russia, but a means to an end. Russia’s goal is not just to create a staunch ally in Syria, but to create great power leverage in the Middle East.

    Friends + guns = leverage. September 17 was about keeping friends.