There are surely many opportunities for US-Russian cooperation in the Middle East, just as there are opportunities for a new rivalry to emerge. While the United States and Russia have closely aligned interests when it comes to terrorist groups, the interests overlap less neatly when it comes to relationships with governments, with energy markets, and with weapons sales.
Jon Alterman, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy and Director of Middle East Program at the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), on the political settlement of the Syrian crisis and its impact on US - Russia relationships.
What do you think about the settlement and short-term prospects of the Syrian crisis? Would it be possible for splintered opposition in Syria to compose a delegation to participate in the international conference Geneva 2?
There is a wide agreement that the settlement that will matter in Syria is a political one and not a military one. Different parties have different ambitions for what a final settlement should look like, in part to protect their own clients and interests, and in part to ensure that a settlement actually ends the fighting. It requires not only bringing together the parties fighting directly in Syria, but also the several outside powers supporting fighting in Syria. It seems to me that several sides believe they can weaken their opponents and get a better deal if they are allowed to fight a little longer.
Earlier there still have been some experts’ suggestions that Russia did not really make an effort to address the chemical weapons problem in Syria, but simply tried to buy time for Assad. Now there is evidence to the contrary. What is your opinion on US and Russian interests in this conflict?
One of the most encouraging things to happen in the last month was the broad realization of what should have been clear all along—that many US and Russian interests overlap, and that a spiral toward greater radicalization harms US and Russian interests alike. I am too far away from government deliberations to know whether the United States or Russia should get credit for this realization, or whether it reflected a shift in the US or Russian position. Whatever the reason, it is quite positive.
What is your opinion on the future role of Russian and US diplomacy in the settlement of the crisis in Syria and at the Middle East region in general? Could their approach work on restoring balance to the US-Russia relationship?
Looking forward, there are surely many opportunities for US-Russian cooperation in the Middle East, just as there are opportunities for a new rivalry to emerge. While the United States and Russia have closely aligned interests when it comes to terrorist groups, the interests overlap less neatly when it comes to relationships with governments, with energy markets, and with weapons sales. In my judgment, successful diplomacy on Iran, which could well be an outgrowth of international cooperation on Syria, would be a strong positive for both the United States and Russia, and could have a broader positive effect on Russo-American relations.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.