I recently read an article in the New York Times called “U.S. Election Offers Kremlin a Window of Opportunity in Syria,” which offered a different view of these upcoming elections– a view from abroad. I can see how many countries would see this as a weak time for America and, at least for Putin, that means it’s time to take full advantage.
Putin sees these next four months as prime time because 1) Obama is unlikely to intervene any more in Syria this close to the end of his term and 2) the next president may implement a tougher policy once they take office. It is Russia’s goal over these next few months to help Assad widen his control in Syria, most importantly, helping the regime gain back the city of Aleppo. Putin sees Russia’s intervention in the war as “the Kremlin’s most important military foothold in the Middle East, which has enabled Moscow to showcase the military’s ability to project power” (Gordon, MacFarquhar, NY Times).
On September 19, Syria declared an end to a short-lived ceasefire and, since then, Russia and Syria have carried out some of the deadliest attacks since the conflict began. Russia has relied on airpower for many of its attacks, which have mostly been directed at humanitarian aid deliveries, water treatment plants, and hospitals. For them, this helps minimize the loss of lives on their side of the conflict.
Putin and Trump are known to get along, with Trump even calling Putin a “strong leader”– a much different reaction than most American politicians and leaders have had to Putin– while Russia has made it clear that they have a generally negative view of Clinton. This adds to the pressure for the Russian leader, as he is aware of Clinton’s position when it comes to Syria. As secretary of state, she “called for a partial no-fly zone in Syria,” an action that “would require substantially more American military action in Syria” as well as “supported covert assistance to the rebels to try to put pressure on Mr. Assad to hand over power to a transitional government” (Gordon, MacFarquhar, NY Times). Putin has an idea of what kinds of actions Clinton would take as president and, as a fresh president, he knows that, if elected, she would have every reason to move forward with full force.
There are many factors to look at when it comes to what actions Russia or the United States should take at this point. It has been acknowledged that the U.S. could deter Russia’s involvement through economic sanctions or airstrikes but, at this point, the Obama administration is weary of increasing involvement in the conflict. I’m curious to see how, or if, our involvement in Syria will change come January. If Trump does get elected, will that somehow ease tensions with Russia? If Clinton is elected, will Putin refuse to negotiate at all? This just goes to show the importance of one person in an entire country’s reputation and image. This election will set the tone for our foreign affairs over the next four years. Whoever resumes the office of President is the deciding factor between conflict and compromise. (yikes, deep breaths)