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Porcelain photos decorated with the images of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a shop in Damascus, April 18, 2016 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Russia and Saudi Arabia Are Only Feigning Restraint in Syria

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Although they are on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war, Russia and Saudi Arabia find themselves in similar positions. Both are presenting themselves as trying in earnest to rein in their proxies. Russia, wanting to again be considered a great power, has forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to come to the negotiating table and perhaps can force him to make important compromises. The Saudis, wanting to be seen as reliable and essential U.S. allies in the region, claim to have organized the fragmented Syrian opposition into a moderate, cohesive body.

Moscow and Riyadh may indeed have enough leverage to rein in the warring parties, but neither has truly done so yet. Russia continues to support Assad and his offensives throughout Syria, and Saudi Arabia and its partners continue to back so-called moderate rebels that are fighting alongside extremist groups, including the Nusra Front, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate. Both countries are feigning restraint, yet neither is willing to put conditions on their support to their proxies. As long as this is the case, Assad and the opposition will never feel pressure to negotiate. ...

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