On the diplomatic front, the main outcome of the military operation of Russia was to bring Westerners and petro-monarchies of the Gulf to the negotiating table. But the Russian military operation has also shown its limits.
While the fragile process of settlement of the Syrian crisis is expected to open in Geneva by the end of the month under the auspices of the United Nations, the Russian campaign in Syria will soon enter its fifth month.
On the diplomatic front, the main outcome of the military operation of Russia was to bring Westerners and petro-monarchies of the Gulf to the negotiating table in Vienna, and to take into account the Russian interests in the Syrian crisis, thus removing the risk of the Kremlin marginalization from the process. Relations between the United States and Russia are in turn entering into a new phase.
Despite differences with the Kremlin - which, however, seem less insurmountable - regarding the fate of the Syrian president, Washington has shown realism and established with Russia a limited diplomatic, military and intelligence cooperation. The unanimous vote in the UN Security Council on December 19, 2015, for a resolution providing a roadmap of the crisis settlement has shown greater US-Russian convergence. Militarily, the Russian primary aim to preserve the Syrian regime has been reached, while the second objective, which is to loosen the noose around loyalist positions, and thus to strengthen the position of Damascus during negotiations, has yet to be pursued.
The only Russian bomber jet was shot down by a NATO member country - Turkey, and not by jihadists, whom Saudi Arabia would have delivered ground-to-air missiles. On the ground, the territorial gains remain limited (50 km² taken by the regime in the Latakia region, for example). But the fact is that they have risen the morale of the Syrian troops after defeats in summer 2015, and assured the Damascus regime a seat at the negotiating table in Geneva.
However, the Russian military operation has also shown its limits. The establishment of a some kind of "military protectorate" by Moscow over the Alawite coastal zone is not likely to create the conditions on the ground for a decisive victory of the Syrian regime, and the Russians seem to fully aware about it. The flow of jihadists from the post-Soviet space - the other reason behind the Russian intervention in Syria - continues to grow: while they were 200-250 in 2013, at the end of 2015 the Russian-speaking jihadists amounted in Syria-Iraq nearly 4700.
The end of the historic rapprochement between Russia and Turkey since 2000s is now also in the list of challenges facing Moscow in the region, together with significant deterioration of its image among Arab Sunnis which view Russia as an ally of the "Shiite axis". In this context, the good relations that the Kremlin has carefully cultivated with Cairo since the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood rule will be very valuable, and Egypt could become the backbone of the Russian diplomatic influence against Sunni Arab states in the Middle East.