Russia’s Continued Defiance in Syria
Russia, China, Syria, and Iran will hold a large joint military exercise off the coast of Syria early next month that will involve over 90,000 troops, according to Iran’s state news agency. The report is based on the testimony of an unnamed Syrian official and was reported by Iran’s state media, making its credibility uncertain. The war games could potentially involve up to 400 warplanes and 1,000 tanks and focus on air defense, missile units, and standard land, air, and sea drills. Egypt reportedly agreed to allow 12 Chinese warships through the Suez Canal to participate in the games. If these reports are accurate, the war exercise will be the largest in the region’s history.
Russia’s escalating presence in Syria continues to grow even as the U.S. continues talks with Moscow on a possible power transition in the embattled country. Before the talks could begin, Russia prepared to dispatch two warships to Tartus, Russia’s only port in Syria. Though Russia stated that the ships’ purpose would be to evacuate Russian expatriates in an emergency, the ships will carry Russian marines once they are launched. Furthermore, Russian Special Forces were dispatched to Syria in April to conduct “anti-terrorism” missions in the country. Despite these provocations, the White House has done little more than condemn the actions.
The U.S. continues to give ground in its negotiations with Russia as well. After a face to face meeting with President Obama in Mexico, Putin noted that “we’ve been able to find many commonalities on Syria,” and persuaded the U.S. to restrain itself to diplomacy in order to find a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis. Pressured by U.N. General Secretary Ban-Ki Moon, President Obama also announced that all interested parties will join the negotiations on a possible transition in Syria. He did not state directly if Iran will join the negotiations. While opposition groups estimate that over 14,000 Syrians have died in the escalating civil war, the U.S. continues to avoid any serious resolution to the Syrian issue. Indeed, as the recent meeting with Putin indicates, Russia appears to be holding all the cards.