Biden warned as Russia and China show strength in Middle East: ‘Allies matter’
JERUSALEM — Two of the world’s most authoritarian leaders — Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, responsible for the bloodiest wars of the 21st century — met Thursday in the Kremlin to discuss expanding the military presence of Moscow in Syria.
The pact between two of America’s arch-enemies raises new questions about whether the Biden administration is in a defensive posture and rapidly losing influence in a critical region of the world.
“We think the expansion of the Russian presence in Syria is a good thing,” Assad told Russian news agency RIA in an interview. “Russia’s military presence in any country should not be based on something temporary.”
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When Putin intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2015, it helped tip the balance in Assad’s favor, ensuring the Syrian strongman’s survival despite Western demands to overthrow him. Assad waged a war against his population resulting in the deaths of over 500,000 people, including the killing of Syrians with the use of chemical warfare.
The potential increased presence of Russian troops and military bases in Syria would present another challenge to the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. US national security experts see China and Russia outmaneuvering the United States in a region where Washington has historically wielded great influence.
Rebekah Koffler, a former analyst at the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told Fox News Digital that Putin began outmaneuvering the United States in the Middle East with President Obama, when Biden was his vice president.
“Putin tricked Obama and by proxy Biden into letting the Russians transfer chemical weapons out of Syria, in 2013. Instead, the Russians saw an opening and seized the opportunity to build up their military presence, trying to make tip the balance in the Middle East in favor of Russia. Putin is building an anti-American coalition: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria,” she noted.
Koffler, author of “Putin’s Playbook,” added that the Russian leader “wants the Biden administration to think he can help the Iran nuclear deal, a peace settlement in Syria, but in reality, Putin will do anything that aligns with the strategic interests of the United States, especially now that the United States supports Ukraine.The security interests of the United States and Russia are diametrically opposed.
Fox News Digital reported this week that the United States’ three main adversaries — Russia, China and Iran — plan to hold combined naval military exercises in the Gulf of Oman. Just over a week ago, China brokered a rapprochement agreement between sworn enemies Saudi Arabia and the Iranians.
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A US State Department spokesperson told Fox News Digital: “The evidence on Russia is clear. No matter where they are involved militarily, local civilians are paying the price for the Kremlin’s destructive playbook of killing civilians for Putin’s benefit. It’s clear. in Russia’s military campaigns in Syria, Libya and Ukraine, where they use military and paramilitary forces to exploit civilians in conflict zones to advance Moscow’s own selfish interests. »
The spokesperson added: “Russia’s military campaign in Syria in support of the Assad regime has resulted in massive destruction, as well as the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. These military operations undermine the conditions for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, and Russia has made no real effort to induce meaningful changes in the appalling behavior of the Syrian government towards its own people. »
The State Department spokesperson stressed that “Russia should focus on promoting a political resolution in Syria, as outlined in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, rather than bringing more suffering to the Syrian people”. Resolution 2254, eight years ago, outlines a peace process to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
Michael Rubin, senior fellow and Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told Fox News Digital, “Standing with allies is important. Russia supported its ally without scruple. Not only will Assad reward Putin, but this decision sends a signal to everyone else. It’s not just about Russia joining Syria. It’s about Russia’s seduction of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Rubin added, “We need to calibrate policy to this reality. The Syrian Kurds are allies and friends. If Turkey supports Islamist proxies and Russia doubles down on Assad, we should double down on the Kurds. They are more progressive, capable fighters, and want a pro-Western orientation. The question is not only what the United States should do, but what it should not do.
Syria is a fragmented country, with territory controlled by Turkey, the Syrian Kurds, Russia and Assad.
Rubin said: “This confirms that Syria will not be unified. At best, with Turkey occupying one area and now Russia doubling down, Syria will be the new Somalia of the 1990s, divided into zones of influence and ruled by different local warlords.”
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Rubin warned of the dangers of sending aid to the Syrian regime. “Any funding we give to international organizations under the guise of aiding Syria’s reconstruction will essentially reward a Russian proxy for mass murder. The money is fungible. What we give in the name of reconstruction helps basically Assad and Putin building a base. The fact that Assad is putting this show where his priorities are. Let’s not be naive,” he said.
Assad delivered a series of tangible rewards to Moscow during his visit. Assad told Putin: “We believe that if Russia wants to expand its bases or increase their number, it’s a technical or logistical question.”
“Having more bases in Syria is good for Russia and Putin is likely to accept the offer,” Koffler warned. “Given that Russian and American forces are already operating in close proximity in Syria, the expansion of the Russian presence in the region gives Putin more leverage and Russian forces more opportunities to gather intelligence on American combat tactics. , military hardware, etc. The Russians are studying American methods of warfare in depth, in order to find vulnerabilities and develop counter-strategies.”
Syria has stood with Russia on the Ukraine issue, Assad said. “Because this is my first visit since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, I would like to reiterate the Syrian position in favor of this special operation,” Assad told Putin, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Syria recognizes the territories of Ukraine seized by Russia as Russian, Assad said. “I say these are Russian territories, and even if the war had not taken place, these are historically Russian territories,” Assad told RIA.
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Assad’s years as president have been defined by conflict that began in 2011 with peaceful protests before escalating into a multifaceted conflict that has fractured the Middle Eastern country and drawn in foreign friends and foes.
He stitched up much of his state with the help of Russia and Iran, aided by the fact that his allies were always more committed to his survival than his enemies were to his defeat.
In addition to the Hmeimim air base, from which Russia launches airstrikes in support of Assad, Moscow also controls the Tartous naval facility in Syria, its only naval anchor in the Mediterranean, in service since the time. of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in January that Russia and Syria had restored the al-Jarrah military air base in northern Syria for joint use. The small base east of Aleppo was retaken from Islamic State fighters in 2017. Press inquiries sent to the Russian government went unreturned.
Reuters contributed to this report.