In the last few weeks, Russia has returned to the Middle East through a direct military intervention in Syria. In doing so, it has entered the Great Game for the heart of that country and the region. Early speculation that Russia intervened unilaterally to prop up the Bashar al-Assad regime has since been undermined by evidence that Russian air strikes are coordinated with an Iranian-supported regime offensive near Aleppo. In fact, it is likely that a June 2015 visit to Moscow by Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was part of the planning for the eventual Iranian-Russian intervention.
Assad apparently invited the Russian strikes, which has given them some degree of legitimacy, as has Moscow’s concurrent promotion of negotiations, which started in Vienna last week. But by intervening on behalf of what Russian officials call a “mosaic” of Iranian-supported forces, Moscow has picked a fight with Syria’s majority Sunni rebels and their brethren in the region. It has also tripped into other regional players’ spheres of influence, including those of Turkey, the Gulf countries, the Kurds, Jordan, and Israel.
Before the Russian intervention, Syria seemed to be turning into Bosnia or Somalia. Now, it could well
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