What Russia’s Airstrikes on Syria Mean for the U.S.

“Putin’s playing a bigger, longer-term game.”

By Rhonda FanningOctober 2, 2015 10:03 am,

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been accused of using recent Russian airstrikes against Syria to target anti-Assad rebels backed by the U.S.

Thursday, Russia’s foreign minister claimed that wasn’t true, suggesting instead that it was an effort to be more aggressive against ISIS  – and to fill in for a lack of western resolve.

William Inboden is the former National Security Council director for strategic planning, and executive director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin.

Inboden says Russia’s primary goals are saving Assad and solidifying Russian influence in the Middle East. “Syria is a cornerstone of that strategy,” he says.

He also says Putin wants to embarrass the U.S. and Obama in particular.

“Putin sees this as an opportunity to reassert himself as a strong, dynamic leader on the global stage,” he says, “and he has identified President Obama and the United States as an obstacle to that.”

The Russian economy is struggling and support for Putin is waning, Inboden says. 

“Russia internally is a weak, declining country,” he says. “Putin is trying to maintain support for his leadership in the midst of those declines.”

He says Russia is “not concerned with instability or human suffering” – only dominance in the region.

“Putin is playing a bigger, longer term game here,” Inboden says. “Syria is key to his Middle Eastern strategy.”

The U.S. will have to recalibrate the “hands-off” strategy in Syria because, Inboden says, we’re running out of options to respond.

“Obama has boxed himself in with a number of policy choices over the last several years,” he says.