What has Putin achieved on Syria after UN showdown?

29th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a dramatic push on Syria at a United Nations face-off with US rival Barack Obama. What does the Kremlin strongman want and, more importantly, what has he achieved so far?

What does Putin want?

Putin called in his speech to the General Assembly Monday for a broader UN-backed coalition to replace the current US-led grouping of Western and Sunni regional powers bombing Islamic State jihadists.

Crucially the Russian proposal is for the West and its partners in the region to join forces with Moscow's old ally President Bashar al-Assad to fight IS and then try for a political solution in Syria. Western powers oppose Assad outright and have balked at the idea.

The Russian proposal so far remains vague and there is considerable skepticism at the notion that Moscow has a silver bullet to end a seemingly intractable four-and-a-half year civil war that has cost 240,000 lives.

What has Putin actually achieved?

Little so far, in terms of his stated objectives on Syria.

None of the nations that Putin wants to enlist to fight IS alongside Assad -- whether Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US or the EU -- has expressed any willingness to sign up.

Obama reasserted Tuesday that defeating IS in Syria will only be possible with Assad gone. Others however have begun to soften demands that he leave before any political transition can take place, and Moscow's support may shore up the Syrian leader's struggling forces.

Frozen out for more than 18 months by the West over Ukraine, Putin has thrust himself to the center of the conversation on Syria by bulking up Russia's military presence in the country and seizing the diplomatic initiative.

Russia has established an intelligence-sharing center in Baghdad with the Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian military in what looks like an attempt to present the situation on the ground as a fait accompli.

Obama agreed to talk to Putin to hear him out over Syria and the US leader has admitted that he is willing to work with Assad's two main backers, Russia and Iran, to find a solution in Syria.

The US military has reestablished contact with its Russian counterparts to avoid any possible accidental clashes between its forces in the country.

Meanwhile Moscow has announced that a diplomatic "contact group" on Syria of Russia, America, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt will meet next month in Geneva.

What happens next?

Putin has said Russia will start sounding out other powers at the UN in the coming days over the chances of pushing through a resolution on its anti-IS coalition.

For now it looks almost impossible for the Russians to get past the Security Council a resolution involving any requirement to back or cooperate with Assad.

Putin has ruled out any ground operation involving Russian troops alongside regime forces in Syria but has not excluded the possibility of airstrikes with either the UN's backing or at the request of Assad's government.

Russia says there are some 2,000 of its citizens fighting in IS ranks and it may look to address that threat while simultaneously helping Assad recover from a string of battleground losses.

© 2015 AFP

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