It’s not secret that Russia and the U.S. have been in a concerted proxy war in Syria for the last few years and Michael Kofman, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, thinks Washington’s luck as run out.
“Russia has won the proxy war, at least for now,” Kofman said in a Saturday piece in The New York Times.
In 2015, Russia, no longer satisfied with proxies, stepped in and launched a brutal airstrike campaign to obliterate rebels bent on tearing down Assad’s government. Such a dramatic reversal of the situation prompted Assad to boast that his military will take back every inch of Syria from opposing forces.
While Moscow is not necessarily interested in supporting that expansive of an aim, having withdrawn a large number of its forces and military gear after a brief campaign, it still is pounding rebels with airstrikes. These airstrikes have proven enormously effective because of Russia’s ability to develop a top-notch intelligence network on the ground in Syria to aid in targeting efforts.
Rebels meanwhile are in such dire straits that CIA shipments of weapons are beginning to drop off the map.
Now that Russia has the upper hand and talk of a ceasefire between government and rebel forces is no longer really on the table, the Obama administration has discussed sharing its intelligence with the Russians, in order to forward joint targeting operations against the Islamic State and certain other groups.
Still, Obama isn’t naive enough to think the Russians don’t have their own particular agenda to achieve through an intelligence sharing agreement.
In a Thursday confrerence, Obama said, “I’m not confident that we can trust the Russians or Vladimir Putin. Whenever you are trying to broker any kind of deal with an individual like that or a country like that, you have got to go in there with some skepticism.”
As an example of under the radar Russian activities in Syria, Michael Weiss reported in The Daily Beast that Russia is trying to persuade rebel groups to defect from the U.S. side with tempting offers of “unlimited weaponry.” Mustafa Sejry, a rising leader in the Liwa al-Mu’tasim Brigade, said the U.S. has failed to provide salaries for troops in the brigade.
Other analysts have backed up this narrative of poor U.S. support for rebels.
“The U.S. is doing just enough to placate its allies and partners and says it is doing something, but does not seek to do what it takes to change conditions on the battlefield,” Middle East analyst Emile Hokayem at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told The New York Times.
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