Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
Moscow's geostrategic objectives in Syria are the polar opposite of Washington's. Grasping this simple fact is the easiest way to get a fix on what's really going on in the war-torn country.
What Washington wants is explained in great detail in a piece by Michael E. O'Hanlon at the Brookings Institute titled "Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America's most hopeless war." Here's an excerpt:
"...the only realistic path forward may be a plan that in effect deconstructs Syria...the international community should work to create pockets with more viable security and governance within Syria over time...
"Creation of these sanctuaries would produce autonomous zones that would never again have to face the prospect of rule by either Assad or ISIL...
"The interim goal might be a confederal Syria, with several highly autonomous zones... The confederation would likely require support from an international peacekeeping force...to make these zones defensible and governable...The autonomous zones would be liberated with the clear understanding that there was no going back to rule by Assad or a successor." ("Deconstructing Syria: A new strategy for America's most hopeless war," Michael E. O'Hanlon, Brookings Institute)
Forget about ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al Assad for a minute and, instead, focus on the terms "autonomous zones," "creation of "sanctuaries," "safe zones" and "a confederal Syria."
All of these strongly suggest that the primary aim of US policy is to break Syria up into smaller units that pose no threat to US-Israeli regional hegemony. This is the US game-plan in a nutshell.
In contrast, Russia does not want a divided Syria. Aside from the fact that Moscow and Damascus are long-term allies (and Russia has a critical naval facility in Tartus, Syria), a balkanized Syria poses serious threats for Russia, the most significant of which is the probable emergence of a jihadi base of operations that will be used to deploy terrorists across Central Asia thus undermining Moscow's grand plan to integrate the continents into a giant free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes the threat of terrorism very seriously, which is why he has been working around-the-clock to engage leaders from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Kurds and Syrian opposition groups in negotiations to put an end to the fighting and reestablish security in Syria. It's worth noting that there's been an effective blackout of these crucial negotiations in the western media, mainly because they make Putin look like a peacemaker who is respected among other world leaders and who is making every effort to stop the spread of terrorism. Obviously, that doesn't jibe with the media's portrayal of Putin as the new Hitler, so they've simply omitted the meetings from their coverage.
The differences between the US and Russia are irreconcilable. Washington wants an end to the nation-state system and create a new world order, while Putin wants to maintain the current system in order to preserve national sovereignty, self determination, and multi-polarity. This is the basis of the clash between Russia and the US. Putin rejects unipolar global rule and is working as fast as he can to build a coalition capable of resisting persistent US intervention, manipulation and aggression. This is no small task, and it involves a great deal of discretion. Putin does not have the wherewithal to confront the US Goliath at every turn, so he must pick his fights carefully and operate largely in the shadows, which is what he is doing.
In the last few months, Putin has convened meetings with all the main players in the Syria drama, and has made remarkable headway in resolving the crisis. The main sticking point now, is whether Assad will remain as president or be removed as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US demand. Putin is resisting this outcome for many reasons. First, he doesn't want to be seen as betraying an ally, which would seriously hurt his reputation as a reliable partner. Second, he can't allow himself to comply with a "regime change" doctrine that eschews international law and that could eventually be used against him in a future coup. Allowing foreign leaders to pick and choose who is a "legitimate" leader and who isn't is a prescription for disaster, as is evident in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Yemen. Finally, Putin cannot simply hand Washington an easy victory on a matter of this magnitude although, in the end, Assad will probably be gone.
So, what's been going on behind the scenes?
Back in June, Putin met with the Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman in St Petersburg and started working on an "international legal framework for creating a coalition to fight terrorism in the region." Soon after, he met with the heads of opposition groups and high-ranking officials from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The goal was to implement the so-called Geneva communique that was ratified in June 30, 2012. In brief, Geneva provides for:
"Establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers that could include members of the government and opposition, and should be formed on the basis of mutual consent.
"Participation of all groups and segments of society in Syria in a meaningful national dialogue process