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Research Report


Frederic C. Hof
Vladislav Inozemtsev
Adam Garfinkle
Dennis Ross
with a foreword by John E. Herbst
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 48
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    More than one analyst of recent Middle Eastern wars has argued that they seem to go on forever because their antagonists are both too weak and too strong: too weak to win, too strong to lose.¹

    “Too weak, too strong” could also be a fair summation of Russia’s position as it seeks to change the course of the Syrian civil war.

    Isolated, recession-racked, and bogged down in Ukraine, Russia has plenty on its plate. But those same ills lie behind, at least in part, the country’s intervention in Syria, which for all its expense could boost the economy and win...

  2. (pp. 3-7)

    On December 18, 2015, the Atlantic Council hosted a conference titled, “The Kremlin’s Actions in Syria: Origins, Timing, and Prospects.” Participants included experts on Russia and the Middle East, former government officials, and journalists.

    The first of two panels focused on the evolution of Russia’s policy on Syria and included commentary from Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, Resident Senior Fellow at the Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East; Vladislav Inozemtsev, Professor of Economics at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow; Angela Stent, Professor and Director at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian, and Eastern European Studies; Mark Katz,...

  3. (pp. 8-18)

    That arrangement, Moscow calculates, “would build the new world order that would give Europe peace for generations,” Felgenhauer said.

    When Syrian security forces opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in the southern city of Deraa on March 18, 2011, few observers (if any) were able to predict the start of a process that would lead to armed rebellion and make Syria a proxy battleground for competing regional (Iranian, Arab Gulf, Turkish) and international (American and Russian) powers. Notwithstanding “Arab Spring” popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and notwithstanding deepening economic problems in Syria caused by natural (drought) and man-made...

  4. (pp. 19-27)

    The Russian military operation in Syria that launched on September 30, 2015, took some Western policymakers by surprise, leading them to believe that Vladimir Putin is even more unpredictable than they had thought. But a closer look reveals that this move fits neatly into the evolution of Russia’s foreign and domestic policies—which are driven by a quest for respect and the survival instinct of one man—and, moreover, that there had been clear hints about Moscow’s next steps in Syria.20

    What prompted Russia’s incursion into Syria, which seems impractical and irrational given its worsening economic crisis and the ongoing...

  5. (pp. 28-37)

    What Russia is up to in Syria is not a particularly great puzzle, but to really understand it, and to see what Russian policy is likely to produce in and beyond the region, the context needs a brief review.

    What we have been seeing in the international and regional politics of the Middle East in the past few years is a competition of multiple weaknesses. The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Daesh) is a deeply fractured coalition of disparate forces, with a modest and undertrained military force, little governing ability, and limited financial wherewithal. Even in its...

  6. (pp. 38-43)

    Samantha Power described the struggle in the Balkans in the 1990s as the problem from hell. The civil war in Syria, with more than 250,000 dead and twelve million people displaced, makes the conflict in the former Yugoslavia look tame by comparison. With the Russian military intervention, Vladimir Putin has created new facts in Syria. Even before the more overt Russian intervention in the fall of 2015, the United States had been trying to work with the Russians to defuse the war and put it on a path to a resolution.

    Little on the ground has emerged from these efforts....