The assassination of Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, raises a lot of questions about what an all-out war between the United States and Iran might look like. The simple answer is that it will be bad, but how bad may depend as much on Russia as it does on the U.S. and Iran.
If there is one player in the dangerous drama unfolding in the Middle East with the ability to flip the script, it’s Russian President Vladimir Putin. Five years ago, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, dismissed Russia as a “regional power” capable at most of menacing weaker neighbors like Ukraine. Today, Putin appears to be making a convincing case that when it comes to influencing security in the Middle East, Russia, not the U.S., is now the indispensable nation.
Putin was in Damascus earlier this week meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad just hours before Iran, in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing, launched ballistic missile strikes on two military bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces. Days earlier, the new commander of Russian forces in Syria, Lt. Gen. Alexander Chaiko, reportedly delivered official condolences for Soleimani’s death to the Iranian Embassy in Damascus. Putin’s visit to Syria was his second since Russia deployed troops there in 2015 to prop up Assad at the height of the Syrian civil war.