Putin welcomes Assad in Moscow
Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his military support during a surprise visit to Moscow on Tuesday. This closing of ranks between the two leaders won't end the war in Syria but only strengthen their position in the region, commentators conclude.
Russia becoming superpower in Middle East
Vladimir Putin is well on the way to establishing Russia in a new role as superpower in the Middle East, writes the former editor-in-chief of the International Herald Tribune David Ignatius in the Wiener Zeitung: "Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed greater Russian diplomatic involvement in the region after Moscow's generally helpful role in the Iran nuclear talks. They apparently didn't anticipate that Russia would seek to bolster President Bashar al-Assad on the battlefield as a prelude to any diplomacy. Putin was hardly ambiguous about his intentions. … If Russia really means to be the enforcer against the Islamic State, this could mean a fundamental change in power relations in the Middle East - with Russia bidding to become protector not just of Assad, but of a Europe that is frightened about terrorism, refugees and energy supplies."
Assad's visit helps both leaders
Assad's visit to Putin is of crucial importance for both leaders, the liberal daily Público believes: "With his most recent appearance in the limelight at Putin's side, Assad is hoping to score important points. He wants to show that he is committed to the fight against terrorist groups. ... But he is also using this opportunity to appease critical voices internationally: he is showing that he is active while at the same time taking advantage of several countries' readiness to see him as a temporary solution. ... Assad knows that Europe is suffering tremendously under the pressure of the refugee crisis (a crisis that has only worsened with the recent fighting in Aleppo). And he knows how crucial it is to take this opportunity to secure his hold on power. As for Russia, it wants to continue demonstrating its strength, and to prove that it is playing a central role in the international community."
Putin displaying his power
In welcoming Assad to Moscow Putin is demonstrating power and strength vis-à-vis the West, writes the leftist daily taz: "Assad's brief visit is aimed at showing the US and Europe that in the conflict region nothing goes without Russia. The more dramatic the refugee crisis, the greater Putin's power becomes. … The US and Europe must decide what solution they want for Syria. They should also take action - including further sanctions - when the Russian air force bombards moderate rebels backed by the West. Because the effects of these airstrikes can be observed in Aleppo right now: tens of thousands are fleeing the city and sticking it out in the hinterland without any protection against the damp and cold. The West has a duty to protect these people. Messing around is no longer an option."
Kremlin pulling wool over Europeans' eyes
Putin's political goals in Syria are not the same as the Europeans', the centre-left daily Libération points out: "Putin's intervention is worrying [Europe], but his manoeuvres are also generating a cowardly sense of relief. The Europeans want to believe that Russia's president will contribute to a political transition that ultimately leads to Assad's resignation. Nothing, however, indicates that that is his intention. His involvement is aimed above all at strengthening the regime in those parts of the country it still controls. The deployment of extensive air defence resources is a warning to the Europeans, because the jihadists of the Islamic State don't have an air force. It shows that Moscow wants to secure control of large swathes of Syria's air space."