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Russia's Syria dilemma

Moscow wants a political settlement to the Syrian war, but its military support, which is resulting in regime victories on the battlefield, could threaten that outcome.
Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoy (R) and spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry Major General Igor Konashenkov attend a briefing in Moscow, Russia, January 15, 2016. Russia's defence ministry said on Friday a new objective of Russian forces in Syria was to provide humanitarian aid. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov - RTX22IOM

Could the Syrian army’s recent military successes against rebel forces, and its possible conquest of Aleppo, be too much of a good thing for Moscow? After the suspension of the Geneva III talks, this is an important question for Russian leaders to consider.

Conventional wisdom holds that Russia’s goal in Syria is to force the United States, regional powers and Syrians into choosing between President Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus regime and the violent extremism of the Islamic State and other groups. According to this view, Russia’s airstrikes work toward this goal by weakening nonextremist forces and gradually transforming the conflict from a three-way civil war into a two-sided, anti-terrorism operation. If this happens, ongoing US airstrikes against IS would more demonstrably benefit the Assad regime.

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