Syria forces Obama to talk with Putin again

Three weeks ago, when it became clear that Russian military supplies were being sent to Syria, the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the United Nations in New York could be reasonably considered a hostile attempt of Russian autocrat to challenge Western countries and claim his own power in the world.

Today, things look the same, except that the Russian president is coming to the 70th UN General Assembly in his capacity as the world savior — with Washington’s agreement.

Now you see it. On September 5th of this year, after a phone call with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov, Secretary Kerry expressed his “concerns about reports suggesting an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up in Syria. The Secretary made clear that…these actions could further escalate the conflict …increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL Coalition operating in Syria.”

Two weeks after this statement, answering the question about mil-to-mil talks with Russians on Syria, Secretary Kerry called such dialogue an important next step. This time, however, Kerry talked about defining some of the different options that are available to the US as they consider  what steps to take next in Syria.

The very same day, it turned out that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter “had a constructive conversation with the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoygu on the situation in Syria.” The two talked about areas “where the United States and Russia’s perspectives overlap and areas of divergence,” underlining the importance of  parallel diplomatic talks that would ensure a political transition for the Assad regime.

Finally, on September 19,  Kerry said the United States welcomed Russia’s involvement in tackling the Islamic State in Syria and called both Tehran and Moscow to persuade President Bashar Assad to step down.  Kerry added, however, that the timing of Assad’s departure was negotiable.

In three days, Vladimir Putin is coming to New York not as the president who annexed Crimea and who currently is at war with his smaller neighbor Ukraine. He comes as the one who is willing to save the world from the ISIL since neither the US nor Europe are willing to send their militaries to fight in Syria.

For the rest of the world, ISIL turned out to be a true nightmare, but it appears that President Putin has struck some good luck with its persistence. This wouldn’t be the first time. Putin has been a fortunate president since his first few years in office as incredibly high oil prices turned the Russian economy around and the Kremlin once again became a serious political player on the world stage. Putin even got to preside over the  Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

The winds of misfortune started to blow in February of 2014. Russia was kicked out of the G8 for the annexation of Crimea and involvement with the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Plummeting oil prices hit the Russian economy hard and both Europe and the US showed unexpected integrity with regards to the Crimea annexation and the war in Ukraine by sanctioning Russia.

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Here and now, however, everything has shifted. Suddenly Europe is in crisis, being stormed by thousands of refugees from the Middle East. Washington has its hands tied between the triangle of Assad, the Free Syrian Army, and Islamic State. Both the US and the EU need the war in Syria to be stopped but neither can do it-fighting Islamic State means implicit support of Assad, and one can’t support Assad after fighting against him and supporting the Syrian opposition for years.

It seemed strange from the very beginning what this brazen show off of Russia’s military supplies to Syria was for. Now it’s evident that Vladimir Putin finally has found something he could trade with. It took him less than a month to persuade the US to take his favor.

The repayment would be pretty simple — accept Russia’s gains in Ukraine, ease sanctions and finally let Mr.Putin talk to Barack Obama. What actually happens in New York — as American officials said on Sep, 23, President Obama had decided to meet Putin while the annual session of the UN General Assembly.

And it all shows that the West again chooses negotiating with a dictator instead of deterring him. But when dealing with a bully (it’s Jeb Bush’s definition) one should be prepared to be attacked and cheated again. And since Russian dictator has been going bull could anyone exclude Russia’s new imperial adventures in future?

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