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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What Breakdown of the U.S.-Russian Agreement on Syria Does Not Mean

What Breakdown of the U.S.-Russian Agreement on Syria Does Not Mean

by Paul R. Pillar
Before additional sweeping conclusions, about the war in Syria and what to do about it, are drawn from the recent breakdown of the U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria, some observations are in order about what this episode does not indicate.
Short-term responses are different from long-term interests. A school of thought in the United States that has been skeptical all along about U.S.-Russian negotiations on Syria holds that Russia has no interest in resolving the conflict with diplomacy and has just been stringing the United States along. Any “I told you so” from adherents of this school in response to the suspension of U.S.-Russian negotiations on the subject is not warranted. Russia’s interests in Syria have centered on maintaining a political and military foothold in the Middle East and on showing itself to be an essential player in the region. Russia has reacted to specific events on the ground in Syria over the past couple of weeks with its own specific, tactical responses. But bashing eastern Aleppo is notper se a Russian interest. The broader political and military position that is a Russian interest is not served by unending conflict in Syria. The Russians still have an interest in being a major part of resolving that conflict.

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