JERUSALEM – Two of the world’s most authoritarian leaders – Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, responsible for the bloodiest war of the 21st century – met in the Kremlin on Thursday to discuss expanding Moscow’s military presence in Syria.
The agreement between two of America’s biggest adversaries raises new questions about whether the Biden administration is on the defensive and rapidly losing influence in a critical region of the world.
“We think that expanding the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” Assad told the state-controlled Russian Information Agency in an interview. Russia’s military presence in any country should not be based on anything temporary.
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When Putin intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015, it helped tip the scales in Assad’s favor, ensuring the survival of the Syrian strongman despite Western demands for his ouster. Assad waged war on his own people, killing more than 500,000 people, including killing Syrians using chemical warfare.
The possible enhanced presence of Russian forces and military bases in Syria will pose another challenge to the Biden administration’s policy in the Middle East. American national security experts see China and Russia as outperforming the United States in an area where Washington has historically had significant influence.
Rebecca Koffler, a former analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told Fox News Digital that Putin began to outpace the United States in the Middle East with President Obama, when Biden was his vice president.
“Putin deceived Obama and his proxy Biden into allowing the Russians to transfer chemical weapons from Syria, in 2013. Instead, the Russians saw an opportunity and seized the opportunity to bolster their military presence, trying to tip the balance in the Middle East in favor of Russia. Putin is building an anti-American coalition: Russia China, Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Koffler, author of Putin’s Rules, added that the Russian leader “wants the Biden administration to think he can help with the Iran nuclear deal, a peace settlement in Syria, but in reality, Putin won’t do anything consistent with the situation.” The strategic interests of the United States, especially now that the United States is supporting Ukraine. The security interests of the United States and Russia are diametrically opposed.”
Fox News Digital reported this week that America’s three adversaries – Russia, China and Iran – are planning joint naval military exercises in the Gulf of Oman. Just over a week ago, China brokered a rapprochement agreement between its archenemies Saudi Arabia and the Iranians.
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A US State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital, “The evidence of Russia is clear. No matter where they are militarily involved, local civilians are paying the price for the Kremlin’s devastating book killing civilians for Putin. This is evident in Russia’s military campaigns in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, where they use military and paramilitary forces to exploit civilians in conflict zones to advance Moscow’s selfish interests.”
The spokesman added, “The Russian military campaign in Syria to support the Assad regime has led to massive destruction, as well as killing or displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians, and these military operations undermine the conditions for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, and Russia has not made any real effort to bring about meaningful changes in the behavior of the regime.” The Syrian government’s appalling attitude toward its own people.”
The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stressed that “Russia’s focus should be on advancing a political solution in Syria as defined by the UN Security Council. Resolution 2254Instead of bringing more suffering to the Syrian people. Resolution 2254, eight years ago, outlined a peace process to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
“Standing with allies is important,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital. “Russia has stood by its ally without hesitation. Not only will Assad reward Putin, but this move sends a signal to each side.” Another, the pioneer in the region, this is not just about Russia’s embrace of Syria, it’s about Russia’s flirtation with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Rubin added, “We have to adjust politics with this reality. The Syrian Kurds are allies and friends. If Turkey supports Islamist proxies, and Russia doubles down on Assad, we must double down on the Kurds’ position. They are more progressive and capable. And they want a pro-Western orientation. The question is not only What the United States should do but what it should not do.
Syria is a fragmented state, controlled by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds, Russia and Assad.
“This confirms that Syria will not unite. At best, with Turkey occupying an area and now doubling down on Russia, Syria will be the Somalia of the new 1990s, divided into spheres of influence and ruled by various local warlords,” Rubin said.
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Robin warned of the dangers of sending aid to the Syrian regime. “Any funding we give to international organizations under the guise of reconstruction aid to Syria will essentially reward a Russian proxy for mass killing. The money is fungible. What we give in the name of reconstruction is basically helping Assad and Putin build a base. The fact that Assad is offering this shows where his priorities lie. Let’s not be naive.”
Assad handed Moscow a series of tangible rewards during his visit. Al-Assad told Putin: “We believe that if Russia has the desire to expand the bases or increase their number, this is a technical or logistical issue.”
“Having more bases in Syria is good for Russia, and Putin is likely to accept the offer,” Koffler warned. “Since Russian and US forces are already operating in close proximity to Syria, expanding Russia’s foothold in the region gives Putin more leverage and Russian forces more opportunities to gather intelligence on US war tactics, military equipment, etc. The Russians are studying US ways of war.” meticulously, in order to detect weaknesses and develop counter strategies.”
Assad said that Syria stood by Russia on the issue of Ukraine. “Because this is my first visit since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, I would like to reiterate the Syrian position in support of this special operation,” Assad told Putin.
Assad said that Syria recognizes the lands of Ukraine seized by Russia as Russian. “I say that it is Russian territory, and even if the war does not happen, this is historically Russian territory,” Assad told the RIA news agency.
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Assad’s years as president have been defined by a conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before spiraling into a multi-sided conflict that has torn the Middle Eastern country apart and drawn in foreign friends and foes.
He recovered much of his country with the help of Russia and Iran, bolstered by the fact that his allies were always more committed to his survival than his enemies to defeating him.
Besides the Hmeimim air base, from which Russia launches air strikes in support of Assad, Moscow also controls the Tartus naval facility in Syria, its only naval foothold in the Mediterranean, in use since the days of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in January that Russia and Syria had restored the Al-Jarrah military air base in northern Syria for joint use. The small base east of Aleppo was recaptured from Islamic State militants in 2017. Press inquiries sent to the Russian government were not returned.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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