Keeping Assad in power is central to Putin’s plan.Keeping Assad in power is central to Putin’s plan. His speech at the U.N. General Assembly later this month is expected to focus on this topic.
But most importantly, support for Assad fits within Putin’s plans to restore Russia as a great power opposing the West.But most importantly, support for Assad fits within Putin’s plans to restore Russia as a great power opposing the West. For the United States, diplomacy is about win-win scenarios, but Putin’s approach is zero-sum. Support for Assad means sticking a thumb in the eye of the White House. He might claim to be fighting “terrorism” by propping up Assad, but it also bolsters Putin’s domestic support; getting citizens to rally around the flag in the face of a perceived external enemy. Indeed, Putin took a similar approach in Ukraine and throughout other parts of former Soviet Union when he claimed the need to protect Russian minorities. At least in the short term, this approach has produced results — after the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, Putin’s approval ratings shot up from an all-time low to over 80 percent.