Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Putin Jockeying for Deal with U.S. on Syria

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Putin Jockeying for Deal with U.S. on Syria

Article excerpt

MOSCOW * Signs of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria have drawn U.S. concerns and raised questions of whether Moscow plans to enter the conflict. President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin's intentions.

Observers in Moscow say the Russian maneuvering could be part of a plan to send troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State group in the hope of fixing fractured ties with the West. They warn, however, that Putin would probably find it hard to sell his idea to a skeptical U.S. and risks potentially catastrophic repercussions if he opts for unilateral military action in Syria.

By playing with the possibility of joining the anti-ISIS coalition, Putin may hope to win a few key concessions. His main goal: the lifting of Western sanctions and the normalization of relations with the United States and the European Union, which have sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War amid the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, the Russian leader may be angling to make the West more receptive to Moscow's involvement in Ukraine, while retaining influence in Syria.

This summer, the Kremlin put forward a peace plan for Syria that envisions enlisting Syrian government forces and Iran in the anti- ISIS coalition. A few rounds of negotiations with the Americans and Saudis have brought no visible results, and now Moscow appears to be testing the water for a next move: beefing up its military presence in Syria.

Though Putin said Friday that there was no talk "just yet" about Russian troops joining the fight against the Islamic State, he seemed to keep the door open for the possibility, saying "we are looking at various options." The Russian leader is set to attend the United Nations General Assembly this month, and some analysts say a proposal to deploy troops to Syria could be the focal point of his visit.

Since the Soviet times, Russia has had close political and military ties with Syria, which hosts a Russian navy facility in the Mediterranean port of Tartus intended to service and supply visiting ships. The Soviet-era facility has symbolic importance as the last remaining Russian military outpost outside the former Soviet Union. …

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