If you take any interest in the Syrian war and international diplomacy, you may well experience a disturbing sense of deja vu this week. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Moscow. His visit is part of a renewed American campaign to make Russia rethink its strategy of support for the regime in Damascus, which could culminate in talks between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at the June G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Kerry is reportedly optimistic that he can make some progress. But this new push is reminiscent of earlier, unsuccessful efforts to win over the Russians. Last June, Obama and Putin discussed Syria in the margins of the G-20 in Mexico, but Putin refused to make any serious concessions. Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton went to Moscow later in the same month to parley with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. This paved the way for talks in Geneva with the other permanent members of the Security Council and a communique outlining steps toward a “Credible Political Agreement” (.pdf) in Syria. The document has proved to be worthless.
The mere fact that the U.S. continues to court Moscow over Syria one year later represents a considerable diplomatic victory for Putin and Lavrov. Even if the Russians are by some miracle now ready to compromise, which most observers still think is very unlikely, they have used this war to make themselves look indispensable. And while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot hold out forever, Russia is likely to leave the U.S. and its allies to fix the mess when he falls.