A Syrian Sleight of Hand

To Deescalate in Donbass, Putin Moves to the Mediterranean

Russian President Vladimir Putin cups his ear to listen to a question as he departs after a summit on the Ukraine crisis at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 2, 2015. Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

As Russian jets started striking targets in Syria, Moscow’s other foreign intervention went strikingly quiet. The war in Ukraine’s Donbass, which has killed nearly 8,000 soldiers and civilians since the Russian-backed separatist revolt began in March 2014, has rapidly de-escalated since the signing of a new interim ceasefire on September 1.

The near-simultaneous timing of Russia’s deployment of troops to Syria and de-escalation in eastern Ukraine is hardly coincidental. The war in Ukraine and the resulting Western sanctions are becoming increasingly problematic, and Moscow’s intervention in Syria provides the Kremlin with an opportunity to divert attention and resources away from the stagnant war. It also gives Russia the chance to deflect the waves of patriotic mobilization sparked by the seizure of Crimea and intervention in Donbass. Indeed, Moscow increasingly needs to find a face-saving exit from the Donbass conflict that does not precipitate a domestic backlash. The Syrian deployment

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