Vladimir Putin is trying to cash in the gains of the biggest military wager of his career.
Russian forces have helped Putin’s Syrian ally Bashar Al Assad drive back rebel forces after five years of fighting. The momentum clearly established, the Kremlin gave the green light to an agreement with the US and other powers on a partial cease-fire and humanitarian aid shipments due to take effect this week.
For Russia, the deal averts a collapse of the peace talks, which keeps alive a chance to solidify Assad’s position and mitigates the risk of an escalation of the conflict with US allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US wants to step up the fight against IS, while Europe is looking to stem the worst refugee crisis since World War II and alleviate a rising terrorist threat.
Putin’s military gamble in Syria—Russia’s biggest operation outside its borders since the Cold War—has given him the negotiating power he sought, said Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group, a consultancy.
“There’s recognition that the Russians now dominate the agenda in Syria and the Western approach is to yield to Russia,” Kamel said.
If the Feb 12 agreement in Munich holds, it could ease Russia’s tensions with the US and the European Union, whose sanctions over Putin’s actions in Ukraine are deepening his country’s longest recession in two decades after an oil-price
But the fate of the deal was thrown into doubt almost immediately. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that the US is reneging on the agreement and put the chances of success at less than 50 percent. US Secretary of State John Kerry, addressing the meeting separately, demanded an end to Russian bombing of groups opposed to Assad.
The Syrian rebels were also wary of the bargaining. Riad Hijab, who represented the opposition at the Munich conference, said the agreement amounted to the US giving up on the goal of removing Assad.
“Our people has been abandoned by the international community and has not had leadership, specifically by the United States of America,” Hijab said.
If Syrian government forces and Iran and Russia don’t respect the ceasefire commitment, the US-led coalition fighting IS is ready to send in additional ground troops, Kerry said in an interview with Dubai-based Orient News TV broadcast on Saturday. Saudi Arabia moved a number of warplanes to the Incirlik airbase in Turkey’s south and could also send troops if necessary, Saudi officials said