Although most Americans, inside and outside of Washington, may not see Syria as an area of conflict between the U.S. and Russia, Vladimir Putin undoubtedly sees it that way. And he is acting accordingly, most notably by sending 300 military police and additional troop units to the northeastern part of the country, an area where the U.S. has been a dominant force for several years. Anna Borshchevskaya writes:
Putin has had his eyes set on augmenting the Russian presence in northeastern Syria for a long time, at least since the U.S. announced its partial withdrawal in the fall of 2020. A reduced American presence, it seemed, would give the Syrian Kurds no choice but to make a deal that would allow Damascus to regain control of this region and thereby bring Bashar al-Assad closer to victory. Putin’s hope has proven premature to date, but the region is fragile, and he has not given up, as the additional deployments show.
More recently, on February 16 and 17, 2021, Moscow hosted the fifteenth round of separate peace talks to discuss Syria’s constitutional process in Sochi under the rubric of the Astana talks—a trilateral forum composed of Russia, Iran, and Turkey that Moscow established four years ago, ostensibly to negotiate an end to the Syrian conflict. In reality, the Astana peace talks created an alternative track sidelining the United States and promoted Russia as a peacemaker that favored Assad and silenced genuine opposition.
Syria may not be a priority for the Biden administration, but it is a priority for Putin. A growing Russian presence in the country will only further hurt American, and more broadly Western, interests.