How to Avoid War With Russia

The year ahead could bring conflict or cooperation in these key areas.

Much has been said recently about the unpredictability of Russian foreign policy, and the resulting uncertainty. In reality, Moscow’s interests are quite limited and focused on its near abroad. Understanding how Russia prioritizes its security challenges and how it assesses the security situation on its borders is a start to clearing up much of the uncertainty in Eurasia today. This analysis focuses on critical situations that may develop this year into vital challenges to Russian interests, triggering a response from Moscow.

It has been two years since Russia found itself in the middle of a geopolitical tornado. Could it deliberately stay out of it? We believe not. In nature, wind emerges because of differential pressures between regions. Similarly, in politics, conflicts emerge from a change in the balance of power and destruction of the status quo. The collapse of regimes in Ukraine and in the Middle East created low-pressure zones, drawing neighboring countries into the regional storm. Having found itself in a hurricane, Moscow made its choice. It could have lowered its sails and followed the wind, but it preferred to keep to its course even if it meant sailing against the wind.

Moscow’s offensive had its achievements: Russia is holding the initiative and managing crises wisely for its own purposes. However, in recent months Russia missed at least two sensitive blows. The first was miscalculating the consequences of the public protests in Kyiv in late 2014; the second was underestimating the risk of a Turkish military provocation during Russia’s Syrian operation. However cautious Moscow is in its foreign policy, blind spots trouble every experienced operator.

In its worldview, Russia is a great-power chauvinist and a hard-power athlete. Modern Russia is a status quo player focused predominantly on its nearest abroad. Neither Russian security priorities nor its resources compel Moscow to project power beyond one thousand kilometers from its borders. The basics of Russia’s security strategy are simple: keep the neighboring belt stable, NATO weak, China close and the United States focused elsewhere. Russia supports and abides by international rules, but only until a third party ruins the status quo and harms Moscow’s security interests. When Russia sees the security environment around it as certain and predictable, it feels no need for intervention. But when uncertainty arises and a crisis occurs, Russia responds forcefully.

Logic of a U.S.-Russia Divide
How does Russia see its place in the geopolitics of today? It is clear that the rivalry between the two centers of geopolitical gravity—the United States and China—in defining the rules of international order is a defining process of the twenty-first century. And as the Atlantic bloc is gradually losing its weight, the United States has shifted from expanding to defending its positions. This American strategy may be tagged “new enclosure,” that is, creating exclusive zones enclosed against rivals (first and foremost China) with economic, political and other kinds of barriers.

As a result, Moscow assesses U.S. policy towards Russia as a preventive attack carried out before Russia restores its historic place after the period of crisis. Washington, Moscow assesses, sees the possibility of Russia, clamped deep in the continent, being prevented from being a serious economic rival and therefore unable to form an alternative center of power in Eurasia. A weakened Russia will be kept in fear of Chinese expansion, and will be forced to become an American partner in Washington’s major project for the twenty-first century: the containment of China. And as long as American elites aim for global leadership, there is no alternative to their strategy of weakening Russia. And there is no use looking for a conspiracy in this strategy—Russia simply happens to be in the way of America’s plans. It makes no difference to Washington whether Russian elites are pro- or anti-American; their position only affects the way the United States achieves its goals. With Putin as Russia’s president, Washington avoids the trouble of paying compliments to its opponent, and can easily trip Moscow up.

The way American elites refuse to abandon the idea of global leadership, Moscow cannot afford to be weak. Russia has always been under pressure from rival civilizations to the west and south—pressure that is still growing. The goal of the current sanctions war is to exhaust and drain Russia, making it use up its limited resources, creating feelings of despair and inevitability of collapse among the public. In this environment, Russia chooses to escape direct strikes and distract the offender, shifting the front line far from its territories.

Russia’s first attempt to seize the initiative was the “Turn to the East” and the 2015 BRICS Summit in Ufa, aimed at mobilizing its allies. But it was only successful in part. The BRICS countries were not ready to sacrifice their relations with the United States, and the “Turn” could not bring fast results to influence the current balance of power.

A second, more successful attempt was the Russian operation in Syria. Europe’s exhaustion from Ukraine and the migrant crisis contributed to its effectiveness. But the main reason was the stalemate in U.S. policy, between the declared goal of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and the impossibility of allowing an ISIS victory. Trying to find a way out, the United States decided, at least temporarily, to accept Russia’s offer to change the game. But the general goal of making Moscow surrender never disappeared. And even though it is not a key short-term goal for the Washington, it will never resist the temptation to use emerging possibilities to weaken Moscow.

Source: National Interest


Time has passed the Turkish alliance

About Muslim celebrations in Berlin, however, there appears to be no doubt. In my chapter “Eurabia,” in State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, [2006] is this quote from The New York Times Magazine, exactly 10 years ago.

Parallel to the declarations of ‘unconditional solidarity’ with Americans by the German majority, rallies of another sort were taking place in Neukolln and Kreuzberg. Bottle rockets were set off from building courtyards, a poor man’s fireworks, sporadic, sparse and joyful; two rockets here, three rockets there. Still, altogether, hundreds of rockets were shooting skyward in celebration of the attack, as most Berliners were searching for words to express their horror.

Neukolln and Kreuzberg are neighborhoods of “gastarbeiters,” Muslim Turkish workers who came to Germany in the millions to work in menial jobs beginning around 1960.

While the flap over what Trump saw persists, a more serious question has arisen: Is Turkish strongman President Recep Erdogan trying to draw the United States in on his side in the war in Syria, and into a confrontation with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?

A little history is in order. Not until 1952 did Turkey join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, all but two of whose original 12 members were on the Atlantic or North Sea. Yet bringing in Turkey was a ten-strike, putting NATO on the Dardanelles and Bosporus and on the southern coast of the Black Sea, right up to the border of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

But the world that made Turkey such a strategic asset has vanished. Armenia and Georgia are no longer Soviet republics but free nations. The Soviet Empire, Warsaw Pact, and Soviet Union no longer exist, and Balkan nations as well as the Baltic States are members of the EU and NATO.

Turkey is no longer the secular nation-state of Kemal Ataturk, but increasingly hearkens to the Islamic Awakening. In Syria’s civil war, her behavior has not been what one might expect of an ally.

The Turks left the door open for jihadists to join ISIS. They are accused by two Turkish journalists, now facing life in prison, of shipping arms to ISIS. The Turks are charged with permitting ISIS to move oil from the Islamic State into and across Turkey. Russia, which joined the U.S. in bombing the tanker trucks that move the oil, charges Erdogan’s son with being involved in the black market trade with the caliphate.

Instead of battling ISIS, Erdogan is fighting Kurds in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan and is threatening to attack Syria’s Kurds if they cross to the west bank of the Euphrates. Ankara is also becoming dictatorial and repressive.

Erdogan has dismal relations with Egypt and Israel and appears hell-bent on bringing down Bashar Assad in Syria. Yet, Assad’s army remains the sole force standing between ISIS and Damascus.

Erdogan’s Turkey has its own separate national agenda. While understandable, what is of concern is that Erdogan could escalate his clash with Assad’s regime into a clash with Putin’s Russia, which is backing the Syrian regime—and drag us into his war.

And the longer this war goes on, the greater the likelihood of something like this happening. For the operative premise of NATO is that an attack against one is an attack against all. What do we do should Erdogan provoke a Russian attack on his aircraft, and then invoke Article V and call on all NATO nations to come to Turkey’s defense against Putin’s Russia in Assad’s Syria?

Turkey’s shoot-down of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24 makes this more than a hypothetical question. While the Russians have indicated they are not going to make this a casus belli, Putin charges that the U.S. was given advance notice of the flight plan of the Russian plane.

Were we? Did we authorize, know about, or suspect Erdogan was planning to shoot that Russian plane down? This is no small matter. And Americans have a right to know.

Then there is the geostrategic question. The world of 2015 is nothing like Truman’s world of 1952 or Reagan’s world of 1982. The adversary we confronted then, the Soviet Empire and Soviet Union, has not existed for a quarter century. Why then does NATO, created to defend Western Europe against that adversary, still exist?

Why are we still committed to fight Russia not only to defend Germany, but Estonia and Erdogan’s Turkey, and if the neocons get their way, to be committed in perpetuity to fight Russia for Georgia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Moldova, Ukraine, Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk?

If the history of the 20th century teaches anything, it is that war guarantees all too often lead to war. But in this war against “radical Islamic terrorism,” who is the real ally: Erdogan, who has been aiding and abetting Islamic jihadists in Syria, or Putin, who has been bombing them?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority. Copyright 2015

Source:   The American Conservative

Putin exposes obama’s paid isis mercenaries in middle east and syria

President PutinIn a press conference at the Valdai Discussion Club 2014 in answer to a question to a United States Journalist, President Vladimir Putin addressed his concerns regarding the US and their role in the middle east and ISIS. Although the film footage of the press conference has been banned, Live leaks released a copy of the press conference to the public.
The words of Putin are transcribed below word for word from the video originally provided by  Inessa S.
The press and mainstream news has been avoiding this information. It is a scathing , diplomatic account of Russia’s position on the politic behavior and actions in the middle east regarding Syria and ISIS, as well as a reprimand to our press who have failed to do their job.

Putin’s complete oration to the US Journalists:
First point. I never said that I view the US as a threat to our national security. President Obama, as you said, views Russia as a threat, but I don’t feel the same way about the US. What I do feel is that the politics of those in the circles of power, if I may use those terms, the politics of those in power is erroneous. It not only contradicts our national interests, it undermines any trust we had in the United States. And in that way it actually harms the United states as well.
Undermined trust, with the understanding that they are one of the global leaders in politics and in matters of the economy.
I can stay silent on many things, but as I always say, and Dominic here has mentioned it, “one sided actions” in the continuous search for the next “alliance” and coalitions which are predetermined – this is not a method that seeks to discus and agree on mutual grounds of understanding. These are one sided actions. They are carried out all the time. They lead to crises.

I’ve said this before, another threat that President Obama mentioned was ISIS. Well who on earth armed them? Who armed the Syrians that were fighting with Assad? Who created the necessary political information and climate that facilitated this situation?
Who pushed for the delivery of arms to the area? Do you really not understand who is fighting in Syria?
They are mercenaries mostly. Do you understand they are paid money? Mercenaries fight for which ever side pays more. So they arm them and pay them a certain amount. I even know what these amounts are. So they fight. They have the arms. You can’t get them to return the weapons of course, at the end.
Then they discover elsewhere pays a little more…so they go fight there. Then they occupy the oil fields.
Where ever in Iraq, Syria, they start extracting the oil and this oil is purchased by somebody. Where are the sanctions on the parties purchasing this oil?
Do you believe the US does not know who is buying it? Is it not their allies that are buying oil from Isis? Do you not think the US has the power to influence their allies? Or is the point that they indeed do not wish to influence them?
Then why bomb ISIS? In areas they started extracting oil and paying mercenaries more in theose areas the rebels from “civilized” Syrian opposition forces immediately join ISIS, because they pay more. I consider this absolutely unprofessional politics. It is not grounded on facts, in the real world.

We must support civilized, democratic opposition in Syria. So you support, arm them, and then tomorrow they join ISIS. Can they not think a step ahead? We don’t stand for this kind of politics of the US. We consider it to be wrong. It harms all parties, including you (USA).
When it comes to the consideration of our national interests I would really like it if people like you (US journalists) who posed the questions, would one day head your government. Maybe then we can somehow reverse the situation.
If that doesn’t happen, I will at least ask you to deliver my messages to your government. To the President of the United States, the Vice President, and all other relevant people. Tell them that we do not want or look for any confrontation whatsoever. When you start to consider our national interests in your actions, any other disagreements we may have they will self-regulate. This needs to be done, not just talked about. You must consider the interests of others, and you must respect other people.

You cannot “squeeze” others having considered only the benefits that you require from whatever… in economies, in your military activities, in everything. Look at Iraq the situation is terrible. Look at Libya and what you did there, that got your ambassador murdered.

Was it us that did this?
You even had a security council decision to establish a no fly zone. What for? It was so that Gaddafi’s air force couldn’t fly over and bomb the rebels. This wasn’t the smartest decision, but okay… what did you proceed to do yourselves? You started bombing the territory. This is in clear contravention of the security council resolution. It is even outright aggression over a state. Was it us that did this? You did this with your bare hands.
And it ended with the murder of your Ambassador. Who’s fault is it? It is your fault. Is it a good result that your Ambassador was murdered? It is actually a terrible catastrophe.
But do not look around for somebody to blame when it is you making these mistakes. You must do the opposite; rise above the endless desire to dominate. You must stop acting out of imperialistic ambitions. Do not poison the consciousness of millions of people like there can be no other way but imperialistic politics.

We will never forget our relationship when we supported the US in the war of independence (civil war). We will never forget that we collaborated in both world wars as allies. I personally believe that the geo strategic interests of Russia and the US are essentially the same. We must focus on this interrelationship.

Written by Dianne Marshall
The following video was translated by Inessa S .  A grateful thank you to Inessa S. for all her effort to get this news out to the people.
Published on Sep 25, 2015 by Inessa
In 2014, President Obama named the three major threats to US national security; ISIS, Russia and Ebola (because spiraling national debt, unequal distribution of wealth, over-incarceration, climate change etc are less pressing issues.)%)))
It would be fair to say that Russian politicians took much offence to being placed in this list, next to a terror organisation and a disease.
In relation to this statement, Putin answers a number of questions from a US journalist at the Valdai International Discussion Club, late 2014.
I’m not affiliated to them but I encourage those interested in Eurasian politics to follow Valdai on Facebook, for truthful insights with leading experts.

Source: The Marshall Report

Obama’s former CIA chief: We need a Middle East strategy

Leon Panetta says the White House has to be bolder confronting threats in the region.

President Obama’s former CIA director says his old boss has spent the last four years operating without much of a plan in the Middle East.

We’re operating on a crisis basis,” Leon Panetta, who was America’s top spy for most of President Obama’s first term, said on Wednesday at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. “When a crisis occurs, we respond to the crisis. But we don’t have any kind of larger strategy to try to deal with what’s happening in the Middle East, what’s happening with ISIS.”

Panetta, who helped engineer the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, gave Obama credit for taking risks to confront global flash points in his first term. Since, however, Panetta said the White House appears to be operating from a cautious crouch, leery of getting drawn into another messy war in the Middle East.

We don’t want to get bogged down in another war, obviously, but you also don’t want to stand back and allow the situation to deteriorate to the point where your national security is jeopardized,” Panetta said. “Because the reality is that if the U.S. doesn’t provide leadership on these issues, nobody else will.”

Panetta suggested that failure to develop a broader strategy imperils the work the administration is doing — including the nuclear deal with Iran — to contain the chaos erupting in the region. “Every arms agreement is a gamble,” Panetta said, but this one was struck “in a vacuum, without an overarching strategy as to how are we going to deal with ISIS and with the threat from Iran.” Instead, Panetta said the U.S. should send a clear signal to the region that it will maintain a major military presence in the region; beef up intelligence and counter-terrorism measures; restore relations with Israel; and develop a NATO-like coalition to coordinate the efforts of Arab allies in containing new threats.

Panetta said there is good news on the terrorism front. He’s confident in the ability of America’s counter-terrorism agencies to disrupt larger-scale September 11-style attacks. But that threat has been replaced by another that’s much tougher to contain — that of a lone-wolf operator returning from an ISIS campaign bent on wreaking havoc at home, or, potentially more dangerous, one radicalized here without ever landing on the radar of U.S. intelligence. “How do you protect against that?” he asked.

But Panetta called cyber warfare the “battlefield of the future.” He said military and intelligence arms of the government are prepared, though other agencies remain vulnerable, as demonstrated by the massive hacking of federal personnel records. And while the private sector is scrambling to catch up, “it’s a hit and miss game. Ultimately, it’s my view we do need a tighter public-private partnership.”

The former CIA chief shared recollections from the deliberations that led to the Bin Laden raid, recalling that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton counseled the president that the prize was worth the risk on imperfect intelligence, versus Vice President Joe Biden, who thought it was “too risky.” That subplot was primed to become a major point of contention in the Democratic presidential primary — until Biden announced last month that he would forego the race.

Source: Fortune

Russia unfairly demonized

In Cold War days Moscow probably deserved all the demonization it got. Domestic repression was severe. The military were out of control; the number they killed in Afghanistan could well have rivaled the U.S. in Vietnam.

Their security people were also on a rampage. The two years I once spent in Moscow trying to learn the language and know the people ended up as little more than an invitation for the hard-eyed men in the KGB to constantly harass me and persecute anyone who tried to help me. And that was during the so-called Khrushchev liberalization period of the early 1960s.

But there were also times when Moscow deserved some understanding. Even in Afghanistan it did at least try to create something more progressive than the mess we see today. At home there was a genuine willingness to allow non-Russian peoples to keep their culture and languages. The “evil empire” of U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s imagination was not quite as evil as it was made out; it was at least able to throw up a leader of Mikhail Gorbachev’s quality. Meanwhile the best our allegedly superior democratic West could do was, well, Reagan.

Today it is clear the demonization goes much too far. The post-1991 efforts to reach out to the West were remarkable to anyone who knew what went before. Vladimir Putin with his KGB background is no Gorbachev. But the invitation to join the Group of Seven industrialized nations meant much for the Russians. Finally Russia had the acceptance as a Western-oriented nation it had always wanted.

Today all that has been thrown away by the meaningless effort to demonize Moscow over the Ukraine civil war and Crimea. From the beginning Putin had made it clear Russia was not seeking territory, that it was only supporting the moves for autonomy by the Russian-speaking peoples in the eastern Ukrainian provinces — moves sparked by the inefficiency and then breakdown of the central government in Kiev, and by the foolish attempt to ban the use of Russian. Putin rejected his critics who said Moscow should annex those historically Russian territories. His move would also be justified by the recent Western concept of R2P — the responsibility to protect peoples being suppressed by superior central government force.

Yet for some strange reason this move was made out to be Russian aggression and a denial of Ukrainian sovereignty. The aggression claim continues despite acceptance by all sides of the Minsk agreement of February this year, where Ukraine and Russia agreed on a cease-fire and “local self-governance in particular in the districts of Donetsk and Luhansk.” Ukrainian sovereignty and some administration rights were specifically endorsed. What’s more, the area to be “self-governed” by the separatists is much less than they had originally demanded. Legislation to authorize these arrangements has already been introduced in the Ukrainian Parliament over violent protests by the ugly, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic groups that to date have done so much to prolong the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and which through their policy of random destruction have forced some 1 million Russian speakers to flee into Russia — ethnic cleansing with a vengeance.

Yet all Moscow gets from its very considerable concessions at Minsk and its acceptance of those refugees is a continuation of sanctions and an escalation of NATO military pressures. This, even though two senior NATO members, Germany and France, were present to endorse the Minsk agreements that are now being implemented. NATO once saw fit to bomb Belgrade to force a transfer of sovereignty to Kosovo. Moscow is condemned for much less.

Even as the Ukraine situation winds down, the anti-Moscow sanctions continue and NATO still blows hot. Maybe this is justified by the Crimea takeover. If so, I suggest the people involved should visit the Crimea.

Historically, it has always been Russian (remember the Crimean War?). It remains Russian. In two visits, one very recent, I have never heard a word of Ukrainian spoken. Crimea was gifted to Ukraine by Moscow in 1954 as an act of Soviet convenience, despite the problem of having to retain the Soviet fleet in Sevastopol. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 it should automatically have been returned to Russia. Its seizure during the 2014 troubles in Kiev was inevitable and for most, welcome.

As for that other excuse for NATO pressure — alleged aggressive Russian pressure against the three Baltic States — does anyone in NATO know about the severe language and other discrimination against the Russian-origin minorities stranded in this area by the 1991 Soviet breakup? Details provided by Moscow have been thoroughly ignored. If Moscow’s unhappiness on this account amounts to aggression then we need a new definition of aggression.

Ingrained Cold War fears and NATO expansionism explain some of the illogicality of Western anti-Russia moves. Ignorance is another factor. The people who accuse Moscow of trying to suppress the native Tartar language in Crimea need only to turn on the TV in Crimea to discover daily programs teaching Tartar. How many in NATO really understand what is going on in the Baltic States?

But Moscow also shares some of the blame. Its vigorous denials of any responsibility by the pro-Russian separatists for the March 2014 destruction of the Malaysian airliner MH17 helped early on to push Western opinion in an anti-Moscow direction. I spent some time in August in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a highly intelligent and very senior official who tried with genuine sincerity to convince me that the theories blaming Ukraine were correct. True, seeming bullet holes in the fuselage gave some credence to what she and quite a few others were saying. But Moscow now accepts a missile was responsible. It should not have wasted our time with elaborate theories and radar scans that said Ukrainian fighter planes were responsible.


Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and president of Tama University. He recently made a fact-finding visit to Russia at the invitation of the Russian authorities. The initial report of that visit can be found at .

Source: Japan Times

The Real Scandal of the Libyan War

Benjamin Friedman describes the real scandal of the Libyan war:

If a tenth of the scrutiny Congress devoted to Benghazi went to the administration’s case for bombing Libya in 2011, that case would collapse. The flaws in the case were clear then, and Libya’s postwar disintegration, of which Benghazi’s chaos was symptomatic, just makes them clearer. The real scandal is the U.S. war in Libya and Congress’ failure to exercise its war powers and interrogate its rationales“.

Yesterday I talked about one of the reasons why there is so little interest in Congress in challenging the administration on its actual foreign policy record, and I explained how Republican hawks’ ideological blinders prevented them from seeing and attacking the administration for its genuinely lousy policies. That’s an important factor, but there are others.

Another reason why the administration has been able to get away with the Libyan war in all its illegality is that there are very few members of Congress in either party that want to challenge the executive when it comes to waging war. This has become even more obvious as Congress continues to avoid debating or voting on the war on ISIS, but it was already impossible to miss in 2011. Very few in Congress think there is a need to rein in presidential warmaking, and there are even fewer that are willing to make the attempt. The deeper problem that the Libyan war reveals is that our representatives in Congress have completely forfeited their role in deciding whether and how the U.S. should wage war, and that leaves us at the mercy of the whims of the president. When he feels reluctant to intervene, the U.S. stays out, and when he “turns on a dime” and decides that regime change should happen the U.S. works to overthrow a foreign government. Nothing could be more arbitrary and contrary to our system of government, and yet it seems to have become the norm. If members of Congress aren’t interested in keeping the executive in check (and most of them aren’t), they have no incentive to question the dubious and often bogus arguments administration officials and presidents make in support of the latest intervention. Questioning the case for war leads to questioning the president’s right to start the war, and virtually no one wants to do that.

Friedman does a fine job pointing out that the case for the Libyan war was and is exceptionally weak (as some of us said at the time), and looks worse with the passage of time. Libyan war supporters once claimed that discouraging other regimes from resorting to violence against peaceful protesters was “one of the strongest arguments” for intervention. This wasn’t true when the claim was made. In light of the brutal crackdowns in Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria that have happened in the years since then, we can appreciate just how wrong it was. Another argument for intervention was that it would protect civilians, and yet the net effect of a war for regime change has been to make civilians throughout Libya and in other countries less secure than they were. The central claim in favor of the intervention was that it prevented large-scale loss of life in Benghazi, and that has always been very doubtful. The true scandal here is that an administration can concoct a half-baked justification to attack another country and they will encounter very little resistance and their claims will receive almost no scrutiny when it matters.

Source: The American Conservative

US Forced to Cooperate with Russia on Syrian Quagmire

The Syrian peace process is clearly in a state of stagnation, yet it has seen a number of dramatic developments involving Russia and the US which could potentially bring about a diplomatic breakthrough. Over the last few days, Russia has significantly increased its deployment of military specialists to its naval facility in Tartus and reportedly to Latakia. According to satellite imagery and statements by US officials, Moscow has also sent a significant amount of military hardware, including over twenty fighter jets, to Syria.

The White House was clearly taken by surprise by Russia’s quick and assertive military movements in Syria. Following reports of a Russian military build-up in the country, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Kerry expressed his concern that Russian actions in Syria could escalate the conflict and lead to confrontation with the US-led coalition that is fighting ISIS.

The US position on Syria has remained unchanged throughout the conflict. The White House argues that Bashar Al Assad has lost all legitimacy and must leave office. Yet starting in 2015, the international media has started to note that the tone of rhetoric regarding the Syrian President has changed. It looks as if the US position on Assad has somewhat softened since Russia stepped up its military presence in Syria. John Kerry continues to state that the Syrian President must go, yet the timing is negotiable. “It doesn’t have to be on day or month one,” he recently said.

But the most significant of John Kerry’s comments came when he expressed hope that Russia would bring Bashar Al Assad to the negotiating table, something the US was previously against. While the US State Department spokesman has repeated publicly in his statements that Washington’s position on Syria has not changed, it does seem that the country has become “more receptive” to Russia’s arguments, as Sergey Lavrov put it on Wednesday.

While John Kerry has played a pivotal role in trying to negotiate with his Russian counterpart on Syria, including on issues of a military nature, it turns out that Pentagon was sidelined on discussions with Moscow. Despite initial reports of a Russian military build-up appearing in the media in mid-August, there were no contacts between the defense chiefs of the two countries for over a month following. A remarkable change took place on September 18th when US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter called Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to discuss Russia’s military movements in Syria.

The renewal of contacts between the two militaries is a significant event considering that almost all military communication channels have remained closed as a result of the Ukraine crisis. It is unlikely that reengagement with the US Department of Defense was the endgame of the Russian military build-up in Syria, yet the fact that the two highest-ranking defense officials are now continuously in touch means that there is a chance that Moscow and Washington will begin to coordinate their actions in Syria.

Another event that did not get much coverage in the media, yet reveals how Vladimir Putin’s bold moves in Syria are changing the dynamic of US-Russia relations, was the visit of a CIA delegation to Moscow last week. According to Build Am Sonntag’s sources, the delegation met with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and agreed to some level of coordination in Syria. The renewal of military-to-military and intel-to-intel contacts between Moscow and Washington means that there will be much less finger-pointing and reliance on dubious political guesswork from now on.

Russia’s moves in Syria as well as general tensions in the bilateral relations may lead to a meeting between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. While neither side has confirmed these reports, quite a few media outlets in Russia and the US have quoted sources saying that such a meeting is in the works. Over the last two years, Obama and Putin have had only passing encounters, so their one-on-one talks is a breakthrough in itself. If the meeting takes place, Vladimir Putin will certainly try to persuade Obama that his Syria plan is the only option that can work and that it will help the US-led coalition in Syria to save face.

By uniting forces with the existing coalition, Moscow wants to prove to the West that it is wholeheartedly determined to defeat the Islamic State and that it is impossible to reach peace in Syria without Russia’s participation. The endgame here is likely to prove to the West that isolating Russia is counterproductive.

The current dynamic is not similar to a real thaw in relations and it will certainly not lead to a new “reset.” Much depends on the outcome of Vladimir Putin’s speech and subsequent meetings in New York. The current situation in Syria is similar to what we saw in 2013 when Russia and the United States managed to resolve the issue of Syrian chemical weapons diplomatically. Moscow, however, should be wary of its current tactic because “forcing” the White House into cooperation on Syria does not result in building more trust.

Source: Russian Council