Edward Joseph, at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, notes the uncertainty over Russian intentions in Syria, and over the effect of of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis on Moscow's role in Syria. He writes that now is the time for US diplomacy to test Russia on Syria with a new diplomatic effort there. An excerpt of his essay is below, and you can read the full article on the Atlantic Council's MENASource blog.
As outrageous and unsettling as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is, the fact remains that the real killing continues to take place in another area of Russian interest: Syria. Indeed, more than a quarter of the 136,000 Syrians killed in the war have died over the past five months alone. In a tragic irony, one of the most intensive bursts of lethality—thanks to stepped up aerial bombardment by the Assad regime—took place during the recent, short-lived Geneva peace talks. Whatever Russia’s professed interest in the diplomatic track for Syria, the results at the peace table were abysmal. The question now is whether Moscow’s designs on Ukraine have changed anything with respect to the three-year old conflict in Syria and the massive suffering and instability that it has spawned.
The meetings yielded a strong statement from NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmussen who declared that "Russia must stop its military activities and threats." However, the alliance announced no actions to reinforce Ukraine's security and demonstrate clearly Western resolve in the face of Putin's aggression. Options that should be considered include the following:
Russian government behavior is clear when its perceived interests in its "near abroad" are at risk. The trend started most obviously in 1999 when the Kremlin turned a blind eye to groups like the Russian Hacker Brigade that attacked networks of NATO and member nations in response to Operation Allied Force bombing attacks against Serbia (a fellow Slavic country friendly to Russia). These attacks disrupted NATO web servers and other services but had little overall effect on the alliance or its operations. Similarly, later attacks by Russian nationalists, such as those against Latvia or Lithuania, were largely inconsequential, at least at the strategic level.
“President Obama faces the most difficult international crisis of his presidency," Burns said, and the US has no military option available to reverse Russia’s deployment of troops in the Crimean Peninsula. Rather, the United States should open a longer-term diplomatic strategy to outmaneuver Russian President Vladimir Putin and raise the costs to him of his actions, said Burns, a director of the Atlantic Council. The first steps should include these: