What is Putin doing in Syria with all that military power? The answer – though it begs the question – is straightforward: whatever he wants.
Some of what he wants is obvious: securing Russia’s naval base in the Mediterranean, as well as a safe, non-troublesome ally in control of the area around it. A shrewd man, Putin probably realizes that re-constructing Syria is beyond Russia’s power, that even if Syria were put back together keeping it that way would be endless trouble, that a rump Syria is sufficient to maintain Russia’s interest in the mediterranean, and that Assad would be a liability rather than an asset at the head of such a rump Syria.
Hence one may suppose that Putin’s military deployments are all about securing his pied a terre – as big and as solid a Mediterranean Alewi-Stan as possible.
Solidifying it necessarily means chopping back the Sunni challenge thereto. That requires the diplomacy to which Goldman refers. Wisely, Goldman counts the USA out.
Wisely as well, Goldman points out the main pressure point: Ankara. But who will bell the Turkish cat, and of what can the belling consist? The Saudis have the main financial leverage. Since the U.S. will not push them, the Egyptians are only ones who might be able to do it. The Egyptian-saudi approach to Ankara would be as follows: We, like you, support solidifying and even perhaps expanding the Sunni-Stan that now exists from Raqqa to Mosul. We can work with you on that. All we ask is that we all join in cutting off these ISIS bastards who are making trouble for all of us.
But the approach to Ankara has to include a pretty heavy set of disincentives, if it is to overcome the Turks’ (especially Erdogan’s) priority of fighting Kurds. If Russia is serious about securing its client state, it too will have to weigh in agains Turkey. It has the means doing so.
All of the above is to say that enlightened self interest can be a basis for something like peace – so long as it is enlightened.