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Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus," an example of the "world landscape" genre. Via Wikimedia

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (maybe), “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” an example of the “world landscape” genre. Via Wikimedia

After Russian strikes in Syria, Syria Deeply spoke with Syrians angered by civilian deaths believed at Russian hands. Russia is trying “to weaken the militant opposition on the ground, so that when negotiations start, Assad will be in a stronger position,” says one.

Outside Syria Putin’s abrupt policy shift has, of course, spurred concerns both about the murderous conflict itself and wider themes of US retreat and Obama’s handling of the crisis. Julia Ioffe pithily summarizes this criticism: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Putin is not a strategist, he’s a tactician. But, boy, is he good at it, and, boy, is he running laps around Washington right now.” In an assessment that perhaps does not conflict with Ioffe’s Daniel Nexon (via Ben Denison) and Jeremy Shapiro (talking to Amanda Taub; via Josh Busby) see the work of a weakened Russia with uncertain prospects for success.

The military balance suggests Russian intervention will not suddenly win the war for Assad. Russia has only deployed relatively small numbers of combat aircraft to Syria, and Dave Majumdar examines the limitations of this force (via Aaron Stein); last week Michael Kofman looked at the logistical challenges a potential Russian ground mission would face (though Kofman’s judgement that “Russian forces are unlikely to launch a major air campaign on Assad’s behalf and put its assets at risk” appears to have been mistaken). As Jonathan Marcus writes Russian weapons targeting systems are more primitive than their Western counterparts, though a key Russian advantage is the ability to collaborate closely with the Assad regime’s forces on the ground. Additionally, if the Assad regime’s manpower shortage motivated the Russian’s late-hour intervention, in Dan Trombly’s words “air support and increased ground contingents won’t fix [Syrian Arab Army] force generation problems.”

Regardless of combat prowess, what is Russia’s endgame? Tyler Rogoway suggests that Putin could leverage increased Russian influence in Damascus to force Assad out of power in favor of a more internationally-palatable – though equally charitable to Russian interests – successor (Kofman notes this possibility as well, citing Hafizullah Amin in Afghanistan), though Antoun Issa reports that some observers question whether the risk of a post-Assad regime splintering makes a coup unlikely (via Joshua Landis).

Paul Quinn-Judge notes that while Russia’s Syria policy dominates the news, its actions in Ukraine are not going particularly well. Should Russia disengage from the conflict in eastern Ukraine “it will discover, if it has not done so already, that separatist leaders have developed their own, usually corrupt, interests, and may not go quietly, and that fighters, abandoned to their own resources, may turn to crime.”

Turning to US policy, Philip Gordon questions the mismatch between US goals in Syria – Assad’s immediate ouster, but only at the hands of moderates – and the effort with which America is willing to pursue these goals. Since the US is unwilling to step up its efforts in Syria, the only option is diplomacy that, at least initially, compromises on Assad’s fate. (Also via Josh Busby.)

Elsewhere, continuing on a theme he discussed last year Peter Dörrie highlights at a number of African states’ combat aircraft purchases. What’s driving this trend, especially when the aircraft in question are expensive fast jets? In part, coup-proofing: “Keeping the military loyal is a means of regime survival — and one way to do that is giving those elites new expensive toys to play with.”

Opening with a look at post-war Mozambique, recent research by Jennifer Raymond Dresden finds that “whether an incumbent party wins repeated elections following armed conflict is determined in part by the capabilities gained by rebels while the fighting is ongoing” since many wartime organizational skills – in particular, institutionalized “political interactions with civilians” – are also relevant to politics.

Michael J. Koplow takes a long look at the US-Turkish relationship

Marking the one year anniversary of the apparent Iguala massacre, Christy Thornton highlights Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s misguided focus on highlighting Mexico’s potential for foreign investors while mismanaging the country’s devastating security crisis (via FP Interrupted).

After the Colombian state and FARC reached a historic accord in Havana, Oliver Kaplan (via Roxanne Krystalli) and Boz reflect on the prospect of peace.

In remarks to the UN General Assembly earlier this week, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff repeated the longtime call for UN Security Council reform and discussed her country’s clean energy goals.

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