Signs of an ongoing Russian military buildup in Syria have drawn U.S. concerns and raised questions of whether Moscow plans to enter the conflict. President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin’s intentions.
Observers in Moscow say the Russian maneuvering could be part of a plan to send troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State group in the hope of fixing fractured ties with the West. They warn, however, that Putin would likely find it hard to sell his idea to a skeptical U.S. and risks potentially catastrophic repercussions if he opts for unilateral military action in Syria.
By playing with the possibility of joining the anti-IS coalition, Putin may hope to win a few key concessions. His main goal: the lifting of Western sanctions and the normalization of relations with the United States and the European Union, which have sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War amid the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, the Russian leader may be angling to make the West more receptive to Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, while retaining influence in Syria.
Early this summer, the Kremlin put forward a peace plan for Syria that envisions enlisting Syrian government forces and Iran in the anti-IS coalition. A few rounds of negotiations with the Americans and Saudis have brought no visible results, and now Moscow appears to be testing the water for a next move: beefing up its military presence in Syria.
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