Overnight, we brought you the latest on the “friggin mess” (to quote the Pentagon) that is Syria, where Bashar al-Assad is desperately clinging to power while his depleted army fights a three-front war against a dizzying array of “freedom fighters”, jihadists, former CIA strategic assets, current CIA strategic assets, the Kurds, and god only knows who else.
The Assad regime is (literally) surrounded by hostile states who are angling for his ouster and if you had any lingering doubts about why it is that everyone wants Syria’s strongman gone, look no further than this map:
Note the purple line which traces the proposed Qatar-Turkey natural gas pipeline and note that all of the countries highlighted in red are part of a new coalition hastily put together after Turkey finally (in exchange for NATO’s acquiescence on Erdogan’s politically-motivated war with the PKK) agreed to allow the US to fly combat missions against ISIS targets from Incirlik. Now note which country along the purple line is not highlighted in red. That’s because Bashar al-Assad didn’t support the pipeline and now we’re seeing what happens when you’re a Mid-East strongman and you decide not to support something the US and Saudi Arabia want to get done.
Of course if that pipeline gets built, it means Gazprom’s leverage over Europe is over and that’s bad news for Vladimir Putin and for Vladimir Putin’s personal money vault which is why Russia has so far stood behind Assad and also explains why now, the Russian military is operating in Syria alongside regime forces.
But make no mistake, the Kremlin isn’t naive enough to miss the writing on the wall. Restoring the Assad of yesteryear likely isn’t an option here unless the Russians intend to take this all the way and engage in open combat with the US and its regional allies. Instead, it looks like Russia will do the following: send in the military using the very same excuse that everyone else has used (i.e. fighting ISIS, which at this point has been reduced to the scapegoat everyone uses whenever they want to do something that’s otherwise absurd) while hoping against hope that some manner of political compromise can be found that keeps Assad in power. On that latter point, we go to Bloomberg:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to early parliamentary elections and to share some power with his opponents, a concession that may facilitate a broader international coalition against Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
Russia would consider participating in the coalition and the Russian president has already discussed the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Putin told reporters in Vladivostok on Friday. Russia has been pushing for a wider campaign against Islamic State that would include Assad, something the U.S. and Europe have opposed.
“There is a general understanding that joint efforts in the fight against terrorism should go hand by hand with the political process in Syria,” Putin said. Assad “agrees to this,” and has also agreed to early parliamentary elections and to include “healthy opposition” in the government, said Putin, a key ally of the Syrian president. Four Syrian lawmakers couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Putin’s comments came after reports this week that Russia is ramping up its involvement in Syria. Russian troops are fighting with Assad’s forces and images of what appeared to be Russian planes and drones in the skies over Syria have been published, the U.K.’s The Telegraph newspaper reported on Sept. 2. Russia’s Defence Ministry has denied any direct military intervention.
Putin’s comments indicate he’s not ready to accept U.S. and European demands for Assad’s departure at this stage, said Irina Zvyagelskaya, a senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. Even so, Russia isn’t committed to preserving his rule indefinitely, she said.
“It’s a signal that we won’t stick to Assad at all costs, but we consider the most important thing is to preserve Syria as a state,” Zvyagelskaya said. “Otherwise you risk total chaos.”
Now obviously, the idea that somehow Syria is going to be able to organize and carry out any kind of elections amid the violence is beyond ridiculous or, as Sami Nader, head of the Beirut-based Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs politely puts it, "how can you organize a fair election in a country that’s shattered by war, with no security, fair electoral law or freedoms?”
Well, you can't, which is why there will be no political solution here and Putin will eventually (and it now looks like "eventually" means "sooner rather than later") have to decide whether to draw a line in the sand (perhaps literally) and tell anyone and everyone including ISIS, al-Nusra, the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar that Assad is staying in power and that's that.
In the end, the more likely scenario is, as we've always predicted, that the Assad regime falls and (very) shortly thereafter, US marines storm in to "liberate" Damascus at which point a puppet government will be installed - a puppet government which will coincidentally see the utility in allowing the Qatar-Turkey pipeline to be run through Syria.