By Owen Matthews, contributing editor for Newsweek magazine, based in Istanbul, in Spectator, February 20
…Putin’s intervention in Syria is an act of reckless geopolitical buccaneering – just like his invasion of Georgia in 2008 and his annexation of Crimea in 2014. But it’s worth asking the question: if Assad wins decisively, and peace breaks out, is Putin’s plan so terrible?
Washington and Moscow want many of the same things: an end to hostilities on the ground, the destruction of radical Islamist groups such as ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, the establishment of a transitional government and, eventually, free elections. Even the Americans are willing to fudge on a key rebel demand – that Assad, personally, be removed from power. They agree that he could at least stay for a transitional period.
If Putin’s latest gambit does bring peace to Syria, even if it is a peace on Assad’s terms, it may one day be counted as a success, albeit a self-serving one. But it is also Putin’s riskiest move yet, and growing riskier by the second. So far, Putin’s opponents have consisted of the disorganized regimes of former Soviet nations. In his Syrian war, he faces a ruler every bit as choleric and ruthless as himself – Erdoğan – and an increasingly belligerent Saudi Arabia. The prospect of peace in Syria is now dependent on the wisdom, restraint and goodwill of Putin and Erdoğan: an unsettling prospect.