A ground crew member reports to pilots that their jet is ready for a combat mission, Hemeimim airbase, Syria, Oct. 22, 2015 (Russian Defense Ministry photo).

Russia began its military intervention in Syria a month ago, initially declaring that its aim was to take on the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But instead, it immediately started targeting groups that pose the most threat to Bashar al-Assad’s regime, mainly the Islamist coalition of rebel and jihadi groups known as Jaish al-Fatah, or the Army of Conquest, which includes the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, as well as more moderate groups backed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even the United States. Russia hopes to consolidate the territory controlled by Assad’s forces, which have also launched an offensive on rebel groups […]

Smoke rises after shelling by Syrian army backed by Russia airstrikes, Damascus, Syria, Oct. 14, 2015 (Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda via AP).

Russia’s combat operations in Syria, barely three weeks old, are the kind of expeditionary campaign that Moscow has not undertaken since the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This intervention is the consequence of Presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama both following through on the original, respective paths they chose in Syria. While the United States sought to avoid military entanglement and stay out of the conflict—doing the bare minimum to appease regional allies in their efforts to force Bashar al-Assad out of power—Russia remained consistent in its belief that the Syrian state represents the only viable and legitimate […]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets Russian President Vladimir Putin following the latter’s address at the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session, New York, Sept. 28, 2015 (U.N. photo by Loey Felipe).

Will Vladimir Putin ever be satisfied? As the Russian president has launched his small wars in Ukraine and Syria over the past two years, countless pundits have tried to guess his long-term goals. Some believe that he is a megalomaniac, intent on an open-ended campaign against the West. Others discount him as a nervous nationalist, focused on stabilizing Russia’s disorderly southern flank. Cynics dismiss him as an opportunist, seizing chances to expand his influence whenever they arise. In New York, many diplomats and analysts affiliated with the United Nations take a fourth view: Putin is a conservative with a profound […]

A Russian SU-24M jet fighter takes off from an airbase Hmeimim, Syria, photo taken from the Russian Defense Ministry official web site Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 (Russian Defense Ministry photo).

In commenting on an article by Josh Marshall about Russia’s military intervention in Syria, I wrote that the best thing the United States has going for it in formulating a response is time. Russia simply does not have the hardware or logistical capacity to project force decisively over the long haul. That doesn’t mean that the intervention won’t have an initial impact. In fact, the introduction of Russian airpower and advisers, combined with Iranian and possibly Russian ground forces, has already shifted the momentum on the battlefield. This should not come as a surprise. After all, the initial American and […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session, New York, Sept. 28 2015 (U.N. photo by Mark Garten).

The United Nations was stuffed to the gills with world leaders last week, but the real action was elsewhere. While presidents and prime ministers addressed the U.N. General Assembly, three crises escalated dramatically. In Syria, Russian warplanes launched their first strikes on rebel positions. In Afghanistan, the Taliban temporarily seized the northern city of Kunduz, the first major urban center to fall under their control since 2001. In the Central African Republic (CAR), U.N. peacekeepers fought with militias in the capital, Bangui, in an outbreak of violence that forced 40,000 civilians to flee. Each of these crises has the potential […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon during a signing ceremony at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Beijing, Sept. 2, 2015 (AP photo by Lintao Zhang).

Recent armed clashes in Tajikistan have raised new questions about Central Asia’s stability, just as China is deepening its role in the region and tying it to signature trade and investment plans. Chinese leaders have touted the region as an essential part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a land- and sea-based infrastructure network to connect eastern China with Western Europe through what it calls the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road. But China is not alone in Central Asia. Overlapping interests with Russia, the long-time kingmaker in a region that was part of the Soviet […]

The presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan at the Eurasian Economic Union summit, Moscow, Russia, Dec. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Maxim Shipenkov).

Earlier this week, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin touched on a topic that was easily overlooked amid his claims about Ukrainian and Syrian sovereignty. “Contrary to the policy of exclusiveness, Russia proposes harmonizing original economic projects,” Putin intoned, citing “plans to interconnect the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), and China’s initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt.” Putin promptly turned to other topics, letting any further details about linking the troubled Kremlin-backed EEU—made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia—with one of the two principal components of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with senior government officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Sept. 30, 2015 (Kremlin photo via AP).

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to use military force in pursuit of national interests in Ukraine and Syria has led some U.S. observers to warn that Russia is now the primary threat to U.S. national security. But Russia’s high-profile, decade-long military modernization program has so far shown mixed results, even as its involvement in Ukraine and Syria has created serious challenges, but no decisive outcome as yet. In the meantime, U.S.-Russia relations have been largely deadlocked as a result. All of the articles linked below are free for non-subscribers until Oct. 15. Russia’s Military Modernization In the past few years, […]

French President Francois Hollande at a news conference following his address to the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept. 28, 2015 (AP photo by Jason DeCrow).

This week saw big news for foreign military engagement in the Syrian civil war: On Sunday, France launched its first round of air strikes against Islamic State targets, after years of reticence toward any military involvement in Syria. And on Wednesday, Russian aircraft dropped bombs against Syrian opposition fighters—after asserting it would target the Islamic State. That same day, France announced the opening of an unprecedented inquiry into crimes against humanity under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. France began an air-strike campaign against Islamic State targets in Iraq last year but refused to engage in Syria, arguing that strikes there could […]