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Russian President Vladimir Putin with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) in Sochi, Russia, last November. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

Russia has cultivated close ties with all the major players in the Middle East and looks likely to have more influence over events in the region than a diplomatically challenged and militarily wary United States.

The region's powers, all keenly interested in the outcome of the Syrian civil war, have consulted closely with Moscow over a potential political settlement and grown closer to the Russians in other ways:

  • Turkey, which looks less and less like a NATO ally by the day, checked with Moscow before attacking U.S. Kurdish allies in northern Syria and is buying surface-to-air missiles from Russia.
  • Saudi Arabia, despite closer ties with Trump than with his predecessor, has also hedged its bets; Russian pension funds are reportedly considering investing in the Saudi oil giant, Aramco, as a way of cementing ties between two key oil producers.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who just gave a rapturous welcome to Vice President Mike Pence in Israel and met with Trump in Davos — talks frequently to Vladimir Putin about Syria and other matters.
  • Iran and Russia have cooperated to keep Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in power.

The bottom line: The Trump administration has announced that it will retain a small contingent of troops in Syria — enough to deal with the remnants of the Islamic State but not to dictate the country’s future or even safeguard the Kurds. If the U.S. has a diplomatic endgame and a means to achieve it, it is keeping the details to itself. So for now, Russia is in the lead.

Barbara Slavin directs the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Go deeper

House members and staff will be allowed to bring visitors into Capitol again

The U.S. Capitol on Saturday. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

Members of the House and their staff will be able to escort certain visitors into the Capitol starting Wednesday.

Why it matters: The House is slowly starting to reopen after more than a year of pandemic restrictions. The Senate already allows official visits, with a staff escort.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Jury in Derek Chauvin trial heads into deliberation

The jury of Derek Chauvin's trial has gone into deliberation Monday. The judge told instructed them to "reach a just verdict regardless of what the consequence might be."

Why it matters: The jury's verdict in Chauvin's murder trial is seen by advocates as one of the most crucial civil rights cases in decades.

Merrick Garland: Domestic terror is "still with us"

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In his first major speech, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned the nation Monday to remain vigilant against the rising threat of domestic extremism.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism poses an "elevated threat" to the nation this year, according to U.S. intelligence. Garland has already pledged to crack down on violence linked to white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.