Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Power Vertical

The Briefing: Moscow's Disobedient Client

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) greets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow in October 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) greets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow in October 2015.
By Brian Whitmore

It appears that Russia can't deliver the one and only thing the West wants from it in Syria -- the orderly exit of Bashar al-Assad.

According to a report in the Financial Times, late last year Putin dispatched General Igor Sergun, head of Russia's military intelligence. to Syria to persuade Assad to step aside. And Assad refused.

On the latest Power Vertical Briefing, we take a look at how Moscow's lack of influence over Assad influences efforts to resolve the Syria conflict.

Joining me are RFE/RL Senior Editor Steve Gutterman and Pavel Butorin, managing editor of RFE/RL's Russian-language television program Current Time.


The Briefing: Moscow's Disobedient Client
The Briefing: Moscow's Disobedient Clienti
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NOTE: The Power Vertical Briefing is a short look ahead to the stories expected to make news in Russia in the coming week. It is hosted by Brian Whitmore, author of the Power Vertical blog, and appears every Monday.

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Comment Sorting
by: Ro.Cherry from: London
January 25, 2016 12:23
A few weeks ago I wrote such the comment under text about extraction of al Assad by Russians: ''Putin is not going to any resolution of Syrian conflict which would strip him of the Tartus maritime base. Hence, al Assad will become a prisoner in his presidential palace if this will appear the only way to hold Tartus base in Russians hands'' ...And nothing has changed, except this detail that Russians just have started their propaganda campaign to announce that extraction of al Assad will never happen. Possibly even after death of this tyrant either. After his death somebody of his family will be appointed as the president-prisoner by Russians. Without such the maneuver Iran would intercept the initiative, while alliance with Tehran is already going to be tougher and tougher and mor expensive.

by: Werner from: Germany
January 25, 2016 14:02
The term "client" was recently used by Barack Obama in regard the Ukraine as a client (vassal) of the USA. Many Ukrainian politicians and experts were outraged with such a honest word of Obama... It seems that Brian Whitmore violated the copyright rules stealing this term from Obama without his consent:)))
In Response

by: Cronous from: Earth
January 26, 2016 09:36
Actually Obama stated that Ukraine was client of Russia (not the US). I think he meant under Yanukoyvich.

by: Len D. from: UK
January 25, 2016 14:14
Right now Russia would not want Assad left the power. It's just unrealistic. This is just a dream of American Zionists. If you follow the logic of the US, Bashar Assad must leave the government, and his place should be occupied by ISIS terrorists. In the current situation, in Syria there is no other power than ISIS who could seize the real power. And then with whom to negotiate the peace process? With terrorists? If you think that mentally healthy person can follow to this logic, then I'll question your sanity...

by: Mehdi Diyar from: Ankara, Turkey
January 25, 2016 14:20
Americans are still trying to keep the promise (IMO) to carve out a piece of Iraq and Syria for the Kurds. Why else would the Kurds fight as a puppet army of Washington? Certainly not because they love America. They were promised the rich "OIL" areas so they could keep selling oil as Washington dictates. It is ALWAYS about the money with Washington. If the Kurds outlive their usefulness, they will start to see the "assistance" (say American taxpayer dollars) erode like the desert in a sand storm - only faster.

by: James from: USA
January 25, 2016 14:42
If you missed it, the US is building an airbase in Syria without any consent of Syrian government. The upgrading of an abandoned airbase is going on right now in northeastern Syria, on territory controlled by Kurdish Peoples Defence units. American experts have already started to prepping the runways and other key infrastructure for a new air base.

However, all these activities are not consistent with the official authorities: Damascus has not given Washington permission.

Breaking International Law is "standard policy" for the US! Setting up this base will be to "secure territory for the terrorists and their CIA handlers" as a minimum! It may also be to secure oil fields for the US to pillage, I mean protect from their rightful owners. It also gives the US a close launching pad for the US to obliterate Damascus and take out Assad once and for all.
In Response

by: Ian Hague from: USA
January 25, 2016 16:02
Syria is a failed state. It does not control its borders and many parts of the country are under the control of groups contesting the Assad regime. In such conditions, the international legal aspects of some outside power setting up landing strips in those areas is much murkier. You jump to legal conclusions that are not justified by the facts.
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 25, 2016 20:58
Benjamin A made this same point on Friday's podcast page and in parts exactly the same text. There is a report of the Kurds working with the Russians on an airbase in north-east Syria and perhaps that is the airport being noted here. Benjamin or James could provide a reference to clarify the issue.
In Response

by: James from: US
January 27, 2016 17:57
Neil, I'm not sure that you really are interested in the sources, or the truth. In any case, here are some reports, which our Western mainstream media never would publish:

"American Boots on the Ground. US Troops Take Over Syria Airbase. Kurdish YPG Gives US Sole Control Over Base."

"No permission sought, none given: new US airbase in Syria anyway."
In Response

by: Neil Nelson from: UT, USA
January 27, 2016 19:58
James, I read through your references and note that the Kurds are agreed to the US presence. I have not seen any indication that the US intends to Obliterate Damascus or that the Kurds are terrorists or that the US will take control of oil fields against the property interests of whoever owns the oil fields in Syria.

The remaining key part of the argument appears to be whether or not the US should get Assad's permission to perform military operations, including utilizing an air base in north-eastern Syria.

Note my reply to Benjamin on this topic at After you read that post you might give an argument as to how we will move forward on Syria when we have Russia blocking action in the UN, a Russia that does not appear to worry about international law elsewhere as in Crimea and Ukraine, and a Russia that has been bombing groups that the US and other Middle East nations expect to be part of a new Syrian government.

by: Ray from: US
January 25, 2016 16:25
Not sure why you take the FT report at face value. The Kremlin leadership has repeatedly expressed its support for Assad. To then make the claim that Putin has lost influence over its “disobedient client” Assad is simply ludicrous. Moreover, one would think that after the glorious successes in Iraq and Libya, Western leaders might comprehend the value of leaving a corrupt autocrat in charge.

by: james jeame jema from: Santa Monica
January 26, 2016 00:40
It is foolish to believe that Obama is in condition to dictate what should happen in Syria. Who is Obama? A judge speaking on behalf of the world?
Obama has created so much suffering that he should be in hiding instead of trying to rule over the world.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or