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Navigating the Syrian Endgame

Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian sponsors have reclaimed most of the territory previously held by opposition forces, his regime will soon be able to claim victory after seven years of carnage. For Europeans, it is imperative that that victory proves hollow.

STOCKHOLM – After a suspiciously sudden conversion, Russian President Vladimir Putin now claims to be worried about the fate of millions of refugees who have fled the carnage in Syria. In a recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin expressed his hope that the European Union would help to rebuild Syria so that its displaced people could start to return home. And in recent weeks, Russian diplomats have been hawking the same message across European capitals.

To be sure, now that Bashar al-Assad’s regime has reclaimed most of the country’s territory, Syria’s civil war is clearly winding down. But that outcome was not inevitable. On the contrary, the Syrian army was very close to collapsing at one point. Only with the crucial help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian air support did Assad manage to turn things around.

Meanwhile, US efforts to establish a “moderate” armed opposition achieved little, apart from giving the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) – an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – control of the strip of northern Syria abutting the Turkish border. The only thing left to do now is to destroy Al Nusra’s remaining enclave in Idlib and broker some kind of settlement between the YPG and Assad.

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