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3/29/16

Syria - the man of the hour: How Putin's Leverage Shaped the Syrian Ceasefire - by Gareth Porter

Putin and Obama: two intelligent and pragmatic leaders
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S Secretary of State John Kerry have clearly been the primary drivers of their respective governments’ policies toward Syria.

Their negotiations have already led to a Syrian ceasefire few ever expected to materialize and hold. In addition, Syrian negotiations on a political settlement now seem possible.

Washington and Moscow had to cooperate in order to get that ceasefire, along with the jump-starting of intra-Syrian negotiations. Those negotiations are now scheduled to begin next month, according to UN special envoy Steffan de Mistura.

However, the diplomatic maneuvering involved in getting there did not reflect equal influence on each other’s policies.

Putin’s Russia has now demonstrated that it has effective leverage over the policy of the United States in Syria, whereas Kerry has no similar leverage over Russian policy.

Kerry had appeared to be the primary driver of a political settlement last year. His initiative was propelled by a strategy based on exploiting the military success of the Nusra Front-led opposition forces, armed by the United States and its allies, in northwestern Syria.

Kerry viewed that success as a way to put pressure on both the Assad regime and its Russian ally. His goal? That they would agree for Assad to step down.

But that strategy turned out to be an overreach. Putin surprised the outside world by intervening in Syria with enough airpower to put the jihadists and their “moderate” allies on the defensive.

We now know that Kerry, still pursuing that strategy, asked U.S. President Barack Obama to carry out direct attacks on Assad’s forces, so he could have some “leverage” in the negotiations with the Russians over a ceasefire and settlement.

But Obama refused to do so. Russia’s on-the-ground success, especially in January and February of this year, conferred on Putin an even more clear-cut advantage in the negotiations with the United States over a Syrian ceasefire.

Even though the U.S. side was effectively outmaneuvered, the U.S.-Russian agreement on a ceasefire has proven to be far more effective than anyone had expected.

It is now clear why Putin was able to convert his new-found leverage into the one U.S. diplomatic concession that is necessary to any possibility of ending the war.

The agreement between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry was more far-reaching than what has been made public.

In one deft move, Putin has thus proved capable of having his way not just vis-à-vis Turkey and Saudi Arabia, but also the United States..

By shifting the conflict to the negotiating table, Putin’s moves have also added to Russian leverage on the Assad regime. The Russians can be expected to be active in suggesting ways to craft a Syrian agreement on new elections and constitutional reform.

The Russians have also ruled out any requirement for Assad to resign, but the Iranians are afraid that assurance is not ironclad.

Iranian officials strongly hinted privately in Vienna that they believed the Russians made a deal with the United States on a key sanctions relief issue at Iran’s expense in the final stage of the nuclear negotiations. They fear something similar may happen on Syria.

Note EU-Digest: It shows once again that when there is intelligent and pragmatic leadership in Russia and the US, in this case with Putin (President of Russia)  and Obama (President of the USA) that intelligent decisions, with the best possible results and the least chance for violence and human suffering can be made.Military confrontation should never be the solution in solving international disputes.

Read more: How Putin's Leverage Shaped the Syrian Ceasefire - The Globalist

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