Syrian president Bashar al-Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow this week to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin. It marks the first time he’s left the county since the civil war began in 2011.
Assad wanted to meet with Putin to coordinate military action in Syria as Russia takes on a larger role. Joshua Landis, the author of the blog Syria Comment and the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, says the move was more than just public relations, and a significant effort to bring Assad out of isolation.
“They need to get him back on the stage, the world stage, and get the world to take him seriously,” Landis said. “Russia, now that it's moved it military force into Syria, is pounding the rebels, is trying to find a permanent place for this Syrian regime. And that's going to be a very hard sell with the West.”
President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry still want Assad to step down eventually, but that’s hard as Russia’s ascendance coincides with U.S. policies grinding to a halt in the region.
Assad visits Moscow: says "whole (Syrian) people want to take part in deciding fate of their state."" https://t.co/ZnkrDgJLAz
— Joshua Landis (@joshua_landis) October 21, 2015
“They think Syria is going to be a swamp for Russia. It's going to get stuck,” Landis said. “Perhaps in a year, as they get sucked into that swamp, they're going to come back on bended knee, and look for a deal.”
Until Russia stepped up its involvement, Assad’s regime continued to weaken, and the West’s policy was basically wait him out, hoping he’ll offer a compromise. But Landis says the Russians don’t want Assad to collapse, so they can maintain their foothold in the region.
“They've gone in saying, ‘This is our client. You can't do this. We're going to be his sponsor.’,” Landis said. “So they're pounding the rebels, weakening him up, and thinking they're going to get a better deal.”
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