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Putin's gambit trumps Obama gamble
Publication Date : 14-09-2013
Some were quick to declare that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "eclipsed" US President Barack Obama as the dominant world leader at the helm of the Syrian crisis. That is an outsized claim but for now Putin's day in the sun cannot be denied by anyone, including American--even though it must be galling to see their usually thoughtful commander-in-chief outplayed diplomatically and politically by the man he once likened to the broody kid sitting at the back of the classroom.
In a moment of rich irony, it was Putin who seemed to come to Obama's rescue in the face of near certain defeat had congressmen taken a vote on backing a US-led military strike on Syria. It was a case of a White House gamble falling prey to a Kremlin gambit.
Obama took his case to the American people, though he knew of widespread distaste for US intervention in Syria.
Putin followed up quickly by addressing Americans directly and adroitly via a newspaper column, pushing his alternative path to keep the peace. Obama had little choice but to embrace Russia's diplomatic solution, even though some analysts think it's just a matter of time before the impracticality of the proposal becomes obvious.
For Putin to pull off his plan, Syria's brutal regime would have to put all chemical weapons under international control, agree to their destruction and unreservedly join the global ban on chemical weapons.
But first, international monitors would have the challenge of nailing down the location of the 42 suspected chemical weapons stores, made all the more difficult since they are constantly being moved.
Hence, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's guarded undertaking to comply has to be viewed with some scepticism. If further violations come to light, despite whatever influence Putin is able to exert over an old ally, there might yet grow a broad international coalition to punish Assad, as inaction could well embolden him and other rogue states.
So is Syria Putin's problem now? "He has fully asserted ownership of it and he needs to deliver," declared a White House official. But the Syrian question is not one that can be easily dispatched whoever is said to own it. Meanwhile, the bloodshed will go on. The civil war also has a destabilising effect on the region for exposing once again Sunni-Shi'ite tensions evident earlier from the Iraq War.
Putin might stand alone in fervent support of the Assad regime but whatever the fate of his latest initiative, it has bought the world a bit of time to try to forge more of a consensus on how best to respond to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.