In September 2015, Russia began a military campaign to support the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. Russia had a number of goals for the campaign: to crush the Islamic State, preserve a key ally in the Middle East and appear strong to the Russian public. But nearly three years later, the war continues, and Russia hasn’t found a way out of it. As jihadist groups in the country appear to be weakening, Russia’s motivations for staying in Syria are shifting. It wants to establish a regional balance of power and ensure that, when the civil war subsides, it still has ways to limit the reach of its historical adversaries – mainly Turkey but also Iran. Assad will play a role in this, but it is looking ever more likely that the Syrian Kurds will as well.
Iran and Russia’s Diverging Interests
Russia’s position in Syria is inevitably affected by another stalwart Assad ally, Iran. With substantial influence over the regimes in Iraq and Syria and its support for Houthi rebels in Yem