Russia Is Trying to Drive the U.S. Out of Syria

September 29, 2020 | Jonathan Spyer
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With little fanfare, the Pentagon last week increased the American military presence in northeastern Syria—sending some 100 soldiers and six Bradley fighting vehicles. Jonathan Spyer explains why:

On August 26, four U.S. servicemen were wounded when the vehicle in which they were traveling collided with a Russian military vehicle. The incident took place . . . at the northeastern tip of Syria close to the Tigris River and the border with Iraq. This area lies far east of the Euphrates, and well inside of territory designated as a U.S.-controlled security zone. That is, the Russian presence in the area was itself a provocation. The collision with the U.S. vehicle took place at a time when Russian military helicopters were deployed above the area. It appears to have been deliberately initiated by the Russian force.

This incident reflects a broader pattern. Moscow [believes] that the American presence in eastern Syria lacks a clear strategic [rationale], and hence may be withdrawn if sufficient pressure is applied to it. Moscow wants to see Syria reunited under the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, as a weak and dependent client of Russia. The Kurdish-controlled, U.S.-guaranteed area east of the Euphrates, comprising around 25 percent of the area of Syria, currently stands as a barrier to the achievement of this goal.

The Russians therefore appear to be attempting to whittle away at the American presence, gradually expanding their own area of activities. . . . Parallel to the campaign of harassment, the Russians are seeking, slowly and incrementally, to draw the Kurdish ruling authorities in this area back under their political patronage. . . . The slow-moving contest over the ruins of Syria thus looks set to continue.

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