Posted tagged ‘Russia – Turkey’

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz

January 21, 2018

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz, DEBKAfile, January 21, 2018ss>

Russian forces did not interfere when 72 Turkish jets Saturday night pounded 100 Kurdish YPG targets in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin. Early Sunday, Jan. 21, Kurdish and Syrian opposition sources confirmed that Turkish troops trying to enter Afrin clashed with the Kurdish militia on the northern and western edges of the enclave and were pushed back. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan continued to issue dire threats, saying, “Beginning from the west, step by step, we will annihilate the terror corridor up to the Iraqi border. No one can say a word. Whatever happens we don’t care anymore.

”The Turks have cynically dubbed their assault on the Kurds, “Operation Olive Branch.”  Kurdish leaders are reported to have opened secret negotiations with the Assad regime for opening the door to the Syrian army to enter their enclave on the assumption that Erdogan will not wish to open a new warfront with Damascus. Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdaq said that Ankara would preserve Syria’s territorial integrity after it achieved its objective and Turkish troops would cross back home.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Turkish army has so far not gone further than exploratory steps in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin. A major offensive with large numbers of foot soldiers and tanks has not taken place as yet. Erdogan appears to be pulling his punches to test whether the US will come to the aid of its Kurdish allies. But the question still open is: Will he go through with his threat to capture Kurdish lands spanning northern Syria from the Turkish border to the Syrian border with Iraq? If he does and succeeds in pulling off this ambitious campaign, Turkish troops will override the region declared just a few days ago as being under American military protection and secured by a new US-trained and armed Border Defense Force of 30,000 men. Will the 2,000 US military personnel deployed in the bases there then intervene? Russia has made its position clear by refraining from interfering with the Turkish air offensive although its forces control the skies over Afrin.

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops

May 27, 2017

Russian siege on Raqqa, distant from US troops, DEBKAfile, May 27, 2017

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin acted to strengthen the military alliance he had set up with Iran and Turkey for working together in Syria – as a counterweight to President Donald Trump’s spectacular success in forging a Sunni Arab bloc during his four days in the Middle East.

It was a tough call. Putin’s allies demanded action to prevent a Syrian rebel force, backed by US, Western and Jordanian special forces, from taking control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Russian leader had to find a way to satisfy them without getting into a clash of arms with American troops.

On Saturday, May 27, as Trump flew home from his nine-day trip, Putin turned the dilemma over with his two allies, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and the newly-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

Three days earlier, the Russian president was put on the spot by Iran’s National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani, who arrived in Moscow Wednesday, May 24. He slapped down a demand from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for an answer as to how the Russian leader proposed to put a stop to the takeover by American special forces and their allies of the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour and the Al-Tanf crossing at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle. (See attached map)

Shamkhani warned Putin that without fast action, the Americans would block the routes from Baghdad to Damascus against the passage of Iranian and Russian forces.

The Russian leader took a couple of days to come up with a stratagem, which he revealed to Erdogan during their conversation on Saturday.

DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose that Putin has ordered the Russian commanders in Syria to impose an aerial and special forces ground siege on the northern town of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital. This move was designed to match the American initiative on the strategic Syrian-Iraqi border, without a military clash.

Why Raqqa? Firstly, it is in the north, far from the American positions. Second, Russian intelligence had apparently discovered a deal between the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – SDF – and ISIS which allowed the jihadists safe passage out of their stronghold towards the south.

The Russian siege on Raqqa was therefore a move against the US-backed SDF and the Kurds, without getting entangled in a direct showdown with the US forces in the South: Putin had installed a Russian-backed foothold in northern Syria to counter the US-led front in the south.

Immediately after the Putin-Erdogan phone call, a Russian military source in Moscow released this story: “Russian intelligence drones have set up a perimeter around the city ([Raqqa] to monitor possible terrorist escape routes, with combat aircraft and special forces units engaged in preventing militants’ escape.” The report went on to warn that any attempts by ISIS fighters to leave the town “will be squashed.”

Putin’s maneuver in Syria was designed to achieve three goals:

1. To counterbalance the America-led takeover of the Syrian-Iraqi border in the south, the Russians would assert control of the northern section of that same border.

2.  To showcase the Russian army as the great champions fighting the Islamic State terrorists, compared with the American troops and their allies who had turned aside from this mission, although President Trump had made it the centerpiece of his nine-day trip.

Putin was careful not to name his objective as the conquest of Raqqa, but only a siege operation.

3. To hit US allies, such as the Syrian Kurds in the north, without tangling with the Americans in combat.

Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel

January 13, 2017

Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel, DEBKAfile, January 13, 2017

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Some unknown hand struck into the heart of that regime in the space of a few hours – not once, but twice.The Assad regime used its standard scapegoat, Israel, for covering up embarrassing and inexplicable occurrences.

However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that the regime has reached an awkward crossroads. The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct. They are deeply immersed in preparing the Syrian peace conference they are sponsoring which is scheduled to open at Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23.

If Moscow coordinates its Syrian strategy with anyone, it is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but even then only to a limited extent.

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There were two unclaimed explosions in Damascus overnight Thursday and early Friday (Jan.12-13) – one at an officers club in Damascus and the second at Mezzeh airport, which Syria alleged was the work of the new Israeli S-35 stealth aircraft firing across the border from a point over the Sea of Galilee.

There was no claim to either of the attacks.

The standard Israeli policy of striking any Iranian arms shipments for Hizballah in Lebanon when they cross through Syria would not longer be applicable to any such air strike, if indeed one was launched..

The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah deploys 9,000 elite fighters in Syria to fight for Bashar Assad. Its Iranian arms supplies no longer need to risk being trucked through Syria to Lebanon; they can be delivered directly to Hizballah bases in Syria without exposure to Israel air strikes.

Indeed, should the pro-Iranian Hizballah decide to go back to shooting missiles at Israel – or using Iranian-supplied unconventional weapon – it has new launching pads readily available in Syria from those very bases. They are located in the Qalamoun mountains in western Syria and at Zabadani, a Syrian ghost town near the Damascus-Beirut highway, which the Lebanese terror group has made its military center.

Both would be obvious targets for Israel to attack rather than Damascus’ Mezzeh airport.

Tehran, having grasped from bitter experience that Mezzeh is under close surveillance by Israeli intelligence, no longer uses its facilities. Instead Iran flies arms shipments for Hizballah to Beirut by commercial aircraft, which Israel prefers not to attack, or overland through Iraq to northwestern Syria, where the consignments are picked up and transferred to Lebanon by sea.

So if an Israeli F-35 air strike on the Damascus airport should be confirmed, its target would not have been Iranian and Hizballah military supplies. Mezzeh is the site of a sterile zone set aside for the exclusive use of President Bashar Assad, his family and his top military and intelligence chiefs. It also houses laboratories for developing and manufacturing unconventional weapons, as well serving as the main command center for the 4th Division, whose Republican Guard unit protects the president, his family and members of the ruling caste.

In the first attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday night at the officers’ club in the heavily policed Kafra Sousa district of Damascus. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured. Located there are the homes of many Assad loyalists in the security and military establishments, as well as top secret facilities.

The ability of a suicide bomber to penetrate one of the most heavily secured locations in Damascus and blow up at an exclusive regime watering hole raises questions about the inner workings of the Assad regime.

Some unknown hand struck into the heart of that regime in the space of a few hours – not once, but twice.The Assad regime used its standard scapegoat, Israel, for covering up embarrassing and inexplicable occurrences.

However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that the regime has reached an awkward crossroads. The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct. They are deeply immersed in preparing the Syrian peace conference they are sponsoring which is scheduled to open at Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23.

If Moscow coordinates its Syrian strategy with anyone, it is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but even then only to a limited extent.

The Syrian ruler and Iran, after being sidelined by the Russians, are following their example. Both have taken to holding their cards close to their vests and operating under in close secrecy.

In an attempt to pierce the resulting aura of mistrust spreading over the staunch Iranian-Syrian alliance, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest confidants, was sent to Damascus Sunday, Jan 8, to find out what is going on there

The mystery deepened further Friday morning, when Syrian state media ran photos of a big blaze – which may or may not be authentic – to illustrate the alleged Israeli attack on Mezzeh airport.

Turkish army like Iraqis stalled by ISIS pushback

December 28, 2016

Turkish army like Iraqis stalled by ISIS pushback, DEBKAfile, December 28, 2016

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Wednesday, Dec. 28, hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to deliver a major speech on his vision for the Middle East, Turkey and Russia announced a ceasefire plan going into effect the same night for the whole of Syria, and in all regions, where fighting between pro-government forces and opposition groups were taking place – excepting for terrorist organizations.

Moscow and Ankara assumed the role of guarantors of the process. This accord will be brought for approval before the Syrian peace conference to be convened in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, this week, attended by Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Syrian government and Syrian opposition groups. The US and Europe were not invited.

Not content with kicking Washington out of any role in resolving the Syrian crisis, the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan accused the US, leader of the Western war on the Islamic State, of supporting “terrorist groups.”

He claimed Tuesday to have evidence of the US “giving support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD,” adding, ” We have…  pictures, photos and videos.”

While Erdogan is scoring in the diplomatic arena, he faces nothing but frustration militarily over the failure of the large, professional Turkish army to gain ground in the battle for Al Bab in northern Syria. This is Turkey’s first face-to-face with the Islamic State in its  four-month old Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria – and it is not gong well. The fighting is deadly with no end in sight.

This may partly account for Erdogan’s oddly inconsistent behavior.

Tuesday, Dec. 26, he quietly asked the Obama administration to step up its air support for the Turkish campaign to capture Al Bab, 55 km north of Aleppo and the only major town in ISIS hands in northern Syria. He accused the US of not doing enough.

It was doubly odd in that Turkey has a large air force of its own, and if that force was not enough to support the campaign against ISIS, Erdogan’s obvious address for assistance would be his ally in the Syrian arena, Russian President Vladimir Putin. After all, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are in the middle of a shared effort to set the rules of the game in Syria, which has pointedly excluded the US under the Obama administration.

As to the state of the fighting, on Dec. 21, Erdogan claimed: “Right now, Al-Bab is completely besieged by the Free Syrian Army and our soldiers.” In fact, this siege has been in place for weeks and, worse still, the casualties are mounting.

Wednesday, Dec. 28, the Turkish military said  it had “neutralised” 44 Islamic State fighters in Al Bab and wounded 117 in Al Bab,  while 154 Islamic State targets had been struck by artillery and other weaponry.

No casualty figures have been released for the Turkish army fighting for Al Baba. They are conservatively estimated at 90 dead and hundreds injured. The losses of Free Syrian Army (FSA), the local rebel force fighting alongside the Turkish army, are undoubtedly heavier still.

Our military and counterterrorism experts explain how the Islamic State’s beleaguered fighters are not just holding out in Al Bab against a superior army, but running circles around it.

The jihadists took the precaution of clearing back passages from Al Bab to their headquarters in Raqqa, 140km to the southeast, and Palmyra, 330km away.

This heritage town, which the Russians took from ISIS several months ago, was recaptured by the jihadists earlier this month, when Russian forces were fully engaged with capturing Aleppo. The US air force has in the last few days redoubled its strikes on Palmyra – both to cut off the flow of reinforcements and supplies to the besieged ISIS fighters in Al Bab and to clear the way for Russian forces to recover the lost town.

This US-Russian cooperative effort is at odds with the Obama administration’s presentation of Washington’s prickly relations with Moscow.

Notwithstanding the forces ranged against it, ISIS has so far managed to repel almost every Turkish bid to break into Al Bab – thanks to the new tactics it has introduced to the battles for Syrian Al Bab and Iraqi Mosul, which mark a turning point in the war on Islamist terror in those countries.

Those tactics hinge heavily on maximizing enemy casualties in order to knock the opposing army off the battlefield.

This is achieved by a deadly mix of guerilla and terrorist methods, and includes car bombs, bomb belt-clad suicides, improvised explosive devices (IED), sniper squads, gliders carrying explosives with small parachutes, as well as the increasing use of anti-air missiles and poison chemicals.

Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al-Abadi estimated that the Iraqi army needed another three months to beat ISIS in Mosul. He was trying to buck up the Iraqi people by concealing the true situation.
The fact is that the Iraqi military offensive against ISIS in its Mosul stronghold has ground to a halt – and no wonder, when some units have suffered a 50 percent manpower loss.

Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of American troops in Syria and Iraq, was of the opinion last week that at least two years of fighting were needed to drive ISIS out of its two capitals, Mosul and Raqqa. He did not spell this out, but his meaning was clear: to achieve this objective, a far larger army was needed than the military manpower available at present.

Video: Turkish Muslim screaming “Allahu akbar” murders Russian ambassador

December 19, 2016

Video: Turkish Muslim screaming “Allahu akbar” murders Russian ambassador, Jihad Watch

Note, again, the one-finger Islamic State salute.

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According to a Jihad Watch article published ten minutes earlier,

The Russian ambassador has died. Note that the assassin is making the one-finger-upraised signal that has come to signify allegiance to the Islamic State. It is widely rumored that Erdogan is actively supporting the Islamic State, so this could be taken in Moscow as an act of war against Turkey — and that could escalate quickly.

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“Gunman opens fire on Russian ambassador to Turkey at exhibit,” AP, December 19, 2016:

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A gunman opened fire on Russia’s ambassador to Turkey at a photo exhibition on Monday. The Russian foreign ministry confirmed he was shot, but did not immediately say anything about his condition.

Turkish police shot and killed the gunman, Turkish station NTV reported.

The ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored exhibition in the capital, Ankara, when a man wearing a suit and tie shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots, according to an AP photographer in the audience. The attacker also said some words in Russian and smashed several of the photos hung for the exhibition. There was panic as people ran for cover. NTV said three other people were wounded in the attack….

Turkey’s Descent into Islamist Tyranny Deepens

October 31, 2016

Turkey’s Descent into Islamist Tyranny Deepens, Counter Jihad, October 31, 2016

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Turkey’s military forces have just seized the Hagia Sophia, appointing a full-time imam to lead Islamic prayers there after 80 years of it being held as a neutral place for both Christians and Muslims.  The move is symbolic, but shows clearly the designs of Turkey’s Islamist president.

The Turkish government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the abortive coup of this summer to deepen its control over every aspect of Turkish life, but especially the media and education.  Over ten thousand public servants have been purged from the government in recent days, raising the total figure to over a hundred thousand — some 37,000 of whom have been arrested. Erdoğan has pressed the Turkish parliament to reinstate the death penalty so that he can begin disposing of those he has identified as his enemies.

“Our government will take this proposal [on capital punishment] to parliament. I am sure parliament will approve it, and when it comes back to me, I will ratify it…Soon, soon, don’t worry. It’s happening soon, God willing. The West says this, the West says that. Excuse me, but what counts is not what the West says. What counts is what my people say.”

According to CounterJihad’s sources, the detained who are subjected to trial must submit to having all of their conversations with their lawyers recorded whenever the prosecution requests it.  Such recordings are of course admissible as evidence against the client — or the lawyer, if he comes to be considered an enemy of the state from working too hard to defend people already classified as ‘enemies of the state.’

The detained include especially members of opposition media.  The leadership of the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper, which is nearly a century old, were arrested and their laptops seized by the police.  Their paper is not only critical of Erdoğan , but occasionally supportive of the Kurdish minority.  That appears to be grounds for arrest in Turkey now:  even two mayors were seized by order of a Turkish court on suspicion of being sympathetic to Kurdish militants.  In addition to the attacks on the Cumhuriyet daily, 15 Kurdish news outlets have been shuttered by order of the state.  A pro-Kurdish television station was raided by police and forced off the air.

In addition to the media, the state has moved to consolidate control over its system of higher education.  Some 1267 academics who signed a “Peace Petition” last January have been removed from their jobs according to CounterJihad’s sources, and several have been arrested and charged with “terroristic acts” for signing or forwarding that petition.  Our sources tell us that under the new laws, President Erdoğan must personally approve all new university presidents.

At the same time, the Turkish government is pressing NATO to end its naval mission aimed at containing migration flows across the Mediterranean sea.  Turkey claims that the mission is no longer needed, but the siege of Mosul is expected to produce at least a million new refugees in the coming months.  The Russian operations against Aleppo are likewise expected to produce new waves of migrants.

Turkey appears to be using its position within NATO to advance Russia’s interest here, which is to flood Europe with migrants in order to overburden European governments.  That will produce a Europe less able to resist Russian expansion into Eastern Europe.  Turkey and Russia recently signed a major energy deal, clearing the way for at least an economic alliance.  Erd also moved to abandon daylight savings time, a shift that places Turkey in the same time zone as Moscow.  Russia for its part appears to be negotiating a peace between Turkey and Iran on a partition of Iraq, one that would give Turkey greater control over its Kurdish problems.  If Russia succeeds in peeling Turkey off from NATO, it would invalidate the alliance as NATO requires unanimous decisions for all military decisions.

Turkey’s New Territorial Claims Threaten NATO

October 13, 2016

Turkey’s New Territorial Claims Threaten NATO, Counter Jihad, October 13, 2016

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Should Russia be able to get a process of negotiation going between Turkey, Iraq and Iran on the issue of Turkish territorial expansion, Russia would assume the leadership role in the region.  Should it actually resolve the negotiations successfully, it could expect Turkey to become part of the Russian sphere of influence.  That would potentially derail NATO, as NATO’s decisions must be taken by a unanimous vote.  If Turkey becomes as strong a Russian ally as China, NATO could become as useless an organ for opposing Russian ambition as the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia has a veto).

American diplomatic weakness is partially a function of American military weakness in the region.  Russian diplomatic success is partially likewise a function of its deployment of air and naval-gunnery forces, as well as its so-far successful alliance with Iran.  Better American leadership might help, but for now, the situation is rapidly sliding away from America and towards the Russians.

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A significant claim is being pushed by the Turkish government, one that could redraw the lines of the old Ottoman Empire:

Тhe spat erupted after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took the country and the region by surprise last month by calling into question the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkey’s borders.  He declared Turkey had been blackmailed by foreign powers into giving up vast swaths of territory that were once part of the Ottoman Empire….

[A]ccording to visiting Carnegie Europe scholar Sinan Ulgen[:]  “The message should be seen more of a signal in relation to Turkish polices towards the south, Syria and Iraq. I read it as a backdrop to a policy that tries to build domestic support for a more long-term presence, particularly in Syria, by pointing out, at allegedly past historical mistakes,” Ulgen said.

Turkish forces are currently in Syria and Iraq. But the Turkish presence at the Bashiqa base, close to the Iraqi city of Mosul, has become the center of a deepening dispute with Baghdad. The base is ostensibly tor training Sunni militia to fight Islamic State.

On Tuesday, Erdogan dismissed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s calls to withdraw Turkish troops, telling him “he should know his place.”

Ulgen went on to point out that Turkey has historical claims not only to Mosul, currently contested in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).   Both Mosul and oil-rich Kirkuk were part of the original design of the modern-day Turkey.  The Turks’ traditionalists and nationalists view the treaty that gave them away as having been forced on them at the end of World War I.

If Russian diplomacy can broker a deal that allows Turkey to expand into Iraq and Syria, it could cement Turkey’s move into Russia’s sphere.  Until recently, that looked unlikely at best.  Last year, Turkmen fighters shot down a Russian jet over repeated incursions by the Russian air force.  At that time, relations between the two nations became quite tense.  Russia is backing Iran’s play in the region, apparently in the hope that a powerful Shi’a Iran will create a buffer zone between Russia and the Sunni jihadist forces that have acted to inflame Muslim minorities in Central Asia.  Likewise, the war in the Middle East draws attention away from Russia’s strategic moves in Eastern Europe, such as last week’s deployment of nuclear missiles on the very borders of Poland and the Baltic States.

Turkey’s latest move appears likely to inflame Iraq’s government, and Russia’s ally Iran intends to control Iraq at the end of this conflict.  Surrendering territory, especially oil-rich territory, may be a difficult negotiation.  On the other hand, Kirkuk is also disputed with the Kurds, and whichever government formally holds it after the war is going to have to fight to keep it.  Iran may be willing to be persuaded to concede the fight to Turkey in return for a more firmly-controlled corridor between Tehran and the Levant.

That will require some subtle diplomacy to negotiate, but right now Russia is having significant success in its diplomatic moves.  In the wake of a new energy deal between Turkey and Russia, the Russian diplomatic corps seems to have a lot of momentum on its side.  Turkey was already looking away from NATO and Europe in the wake of its Islamist purge following an alleged attempted coup.  Should Russia be able to get a process of negotiation going between Turkey, Iraq and Iran on the issue of Turkish territorial expansion, Russia would assume the leadership role in the region.  Should it actually resolve the negotiations successfully, it could expect Turkey to become part of the Russian sphere of influence.  That would potentially derail NATO, as NATO’s decisions must be taken by a unanimous vote.  If Turkey becomes as strong a Russian ally as China, NATO could become as useless an organ for opposing Russian ambition as the United Nations Security Council (on which Russia has a veto).

American diplomacy is meanwhile spinning its wheels.  The United States broke off talks with Russia, and then called for war crimes investigations into Russia and Assad for their campaign in Syria.  American Secretary of State John F. Kerry also accused Russia of interfering with America’s elections.  However, it appears that Kerry now wants a new push for a cease-fire in Aleppo, which would require Syria and Russia to sign on.

American diplomatic weakness is partially a function of American military weakness in the region.  Russian diplomatic success is partially likewise a function of its deployment of air and naval-gunnery forces, as well as its so-far successful alliance with Iran.  Better American leadership might help, but for now, the situation is rapidly sliding away from America and towards the Russians.