Oct 15, 2019

Russia's Syrian win

Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS/Getty Images

As the U.S. carries out a sudden, near-total withdrawal from Syria, Russia is rushing into the breach.

Why it matters: The hasty U.S. exit from Syria makes it certain the outcome there will bear Vladimir Putin’s imprint. Russia entered Syria in 2015 to help dictator Bashar al-Assad regain his grip on the country, and Russia has steadily gained influence in the wider Middle East.

Driving the news: Facing a Turkish offensive and abandoned by their American allies, Kurdish forces moved quickly to cut a deal with Assad and his patron, Putin. But the arrival of Syrian troops in northeast Syria set up a potential collision with Turkey.

  • "This would simply be unacceptable,” Alexander Lavrentyev, Russia’s envoy for Syria, said today. “And therefore we will not allow it, of course.”
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry says it now has troops along the front lines keeping Turkish and Syrian forces apart.

The big picture: Turkey wants to force Kurdish forces from its border region and resettle Syrian refugees there. Assad wants to regain control over all of Syria. The Kurds want protection from Turkey and a say in their political future.

  • All three depend to some extent on Russia, which has relationships with all the key players and a military presence in Syria, says Rob Malley, CEO of International Crisis Group and a former Obama administration official. 
  • “It’s hard to see a party other than Russia at this point that could play the role of orchestrating a settlement," he says.

Go deeper: Trump's step back from the border turns into a sprint from Syria

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Russia and Turkey capitalize on America's Syria exit

Photo: Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Russia today to negotiate the future of northern Syria — highlighting in the process the success of his audacious offensive, Vladimir Putin’s unmatched power in Syria, and America's absence from the table.

Why it matters: American influence in Syria is evaporating in real time as U.S. troops withdraw. It's now Turkey and Russia that are effectively re-defining the country's borders and debating the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019

Trump's step back from the border turns into a sprint from Syria

Fleeing from Ras al-Ain, Syria, on the border with Turkey. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump stepped aside and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan marched forward. Over the ensuing week, a delicate balance in Syria has collapsed.

Why it matters: Alliances have been hastily redrawn, civilians have fled in panic, and the U.S. has announced a near-total withdrawal. In the balance are an increasingly fragile victory over ISIS, what's left of the U.S.-Turkey alliance, and the future of Syria and its Kurdish inhabitants.

Go deeperArrowOct 15, 2019

Turkey and Russia agree to Syria buffer zone cleared of Kurdish forces

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an agreement on Tuesday to clear Kurdish YPG forces 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from the Syrian-Turkish border in order to establish a "safe zone" where Syrian refugees can be resettled.

Why it matters: American influence on the future of Syria is evaporating in real time as U.S. troops withdraw from the country. It's now Turkey and Russia that are attempting to redefine the country's borders and determine the fate of America's Kurdish allies.

Go deeperArrowOct 22, 2019