What motivates Russian policy on Syria and what is their plan in the event of a U.S. military strike? That was one of the questions explored by panelists at a Brookings event today on the U.S.-Russia relationship.
Angela Stent, a nonresident senior fellow and professor at Georgetown University, said that the Russians do not want extremist governments coming to power in the region:
They are very worried about Islamist governments coming to power in the region, about instability in the region, and about the impact of that instability on the Russian federation itself. … They prefer dealing with secular authoritarian governments in that part of the world.
Steve Pifer, senior fellow and director of the Arms Control Initiative at Brookings said that the Russians are paranoid about interference, and have a “very strong attachment to non-interference” lest it be used against them as well:
From their perspective the West has not yet come up with a good answer to the question of what comes after Assad. They can come up with several scenarios which are much worse both for the region but also for the potential concern that this could spread into Russia.
Senior Fellow Cliff Gaddy looked at it from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s point-of-view:
The whole point of their policy on Syria is that they are trying to protect themselves. What they are afraid of is instability. … Not really caring that much about who is in power as long as the people in power in the country control the forces within their borders as best they see. … I don’t think that he has a plan [for Syria] but the overall plan is somehow to protect Russia from the bad things that are happening.
Video clips and an audio recording are now available. A complete transcript of event will be posted soon. C-SPAN also has the complete video recording.
Just meeting with Putin by the U.S. president is not an issue. All U.S. presidents have met with the Russian president...The problem here is that this administration has done this in reverse: Usually there’s a long period of process, of prep work and negotiations…The meeting between the leaders happens last to affirm the negotiating process...So I could see—I’m not saying I’m subscribing to this view—from Trump’s perspective, that this is an important relationship that has gone a little bit off the rails…and that he needs to fix it...And, of course, every single U.S. president has come into office thinking he could fix it because of his charisma and persona, and it was…the last guy who got it wrong, and in that way Trump is not that different from Obama, or even Bush.