Stopping Russia Starts in Syria

The solution to the crisis in Ukraine lies in part in Syria. If US President Barack Obama demonstrates that he can order the use of force in circumstances other that secret drone attacks or covert operations, the result will change the strategic calculus not only in Damascus, but also in Moscow, not to mention Beijing and Tokyo.

WASHINGTON, DC – The solution to the crisis in Ukraine lies in part in Syria. It is time for US President Barack Obama to demonstrate that he can order the offensive use of force in circumstances other than secret drone attacks or covert operations. The result will change the strategic calculus not only in Damascus, but also in Moscow, not to mention Beijing and Tokyo.

Many argue that Obama’s climb-down from his threatened missile strikes against Syria last August emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea. But it is more likely that Putin acted for domestic reasons – to distract Russians’ attention from their country’s failing economy and to salve the humiliation of watching pro-European demonstrators oust the Ukrainian government he backed.

Regardless of Putin’s initial motivations, he is now operating in an environment in which he is quite certain of the parameters of play. He is weighing the value of further dismemberment of Ukraine, with some pieces either joining Russia or becoming Russian vassal states, against the pain of much stronger and more comprehensive economic sanctions. Western use of force, other than to send arms to a fairly hapless Ukrainian army, is not part of the equation.

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