Monday, September 14, 2015

Putin shifts fronts in Syria and Ukraine

By Jackson Diehl, Deputy editorial page editor
September 13 at 7:31 PM, WashPost

Throughout the summer, Russia’s forces in eastern Ukraine kept up a daily drumbeat of attacks on the Ukrainian army, inflicting significant casualties while avoiding a response by Western governments. On Sept. 1, following a new cease-fire, the guns suddenly fell silent. Optimists speculated that Vladi­mir Putin was backing down.

Then came the reports from Syria: Russian warplanes were overflying the rebel-held province of Idlib. Barracks were under construction at a new base. Ships were unloading new armored vehicles. Putin, it turns out, wasn’t retreating, but shifting fronts — and executing another of the in-your-face maneuvers that have repeatedly caught the Obama administration flat-footed.

It’s not yet clear what Russia’s intentions are in Syria — or, for that matter, in Ukraine, where it continues to deploy an estimated 9,000 regular troops and 240 tanks on top of more than 30,000 irregulars. Some analysts claim that a floundering Putin is meddling in the Middle East out of desperation because his bid for Ukraine has failed. But another way to see it is this: Putin’s use of force succeeded in inducing the West to accept his Ukraine demands — and he is trying to repeat his triumph in a second theater.

Certainly, no one looks more fooled by the latest Kremlin stunt than the man assigned to call Moscow to protest, Secretary of State John F. Kerry. In May, Kerry traveled to Putin’s favorite resort, Sochi, to confer with him on Iran, Ukraine and Syria. When the meeting was over, Kerry publicly recommitted himself to the proposition that the wars in Ukraine and Syria could be solved through U.S.-Russian cooperation. To begin with, a special diplomatic channel was set up between Moscow and Washington for coordination on Ukraine, with the goal of ending the conflict by the end of the year.

(More here.)

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