This volume is the product of a collaboration between the European Intelligence Academy (EIA) and the Chanticleer Intelligence Brief (CIB), a student-run initiative supported by the Department of Politics at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, United States. Four CIB analysts tackle some of the most pressing and timely questions confronting intelligence observers today. Topics in this volume include the possibility of a war with North Korea, and the rise of far-right militancy in the United States. The volume also includes an assessment of the impact of the Islamic State in the relations between Russia and the United States, and a discussion of Turkish politics and its effect on NATO's cohesion.
Key Actors Several state and non-state actors have the capability to influence events in Syria. When Russian President Vladimir Putin complied with President Assad’s request for assistance in 2015, he helped protect the Assad regime from the many factions attempting to remove it. In turn, Russia was placed in a prime position to influence the rebuilding of Syria after the Civil War. As extensions of Russia and the US, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and —until his removal in March 2018— Secretary of Defense Rex Tillerson also have had substantial power in influencing how the two countries have interacted in Syria. For example, after the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Summit in 2017, Tillerson and Lavrov produced a joint statement on Syria on behalf of Presidents Trump and Putin. Neither president had a hand in drafting the statement (Erickson and Vitkovskaya 2017). This displays the considerable power both ministers have in engaging in public rhetoric. In addition, the estimated 1,000 Syrian rebel groups fighting against the Syrian government —many of them US or Saudi-backed— can sway efforts to maintain the Assad regime (Anon. 2013). Groups such as the Free Syrian Army, the Islamic Front, and the Syrian Democratic Forces —a coalition of mostly Kurdish, along with some Christian and Sunni Arab fighters— all fight to remove President Assad from power (Finnegan 2017). Lastly, Sunni armed extremist groups, such as ISIS and, to some degree, Tahrir al-Sham (an offshoot of al-Qaeda), can —and have— drastically reshaped the political landscape of the Middle East. Each actor mentioned above has a degree of influence over US-Russian relations in Syria. Discussion of Recent Developments The dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, brought not only the end of the Cold War, but the beginning of a new relationship between the US and the Russian Federation. Progress in this relationship was made rapidly, with the first joint space shuttle mission in 1994 and the ratification of the START II treaty in 1996 (US Department of State 2017). Since the mid- 1990s, however, periods of optimism and progress have been followed by mutual criticism, tension, and pessimism. A total of four relationship ‘resets’ have been attempted by different US presidents (not mentioning attempts by Russian leaders), each failing to stop the overall trend toward deterioration. For example, Bill Clinton began his presidency as “the US government’s principal Russia hand” (US Department of State 2017), a statement implying he had an advantage in negotiating with Russia. By the end of 1995, the US disapproval of the conflict in Chechnya and the Russian disapproval of US involvement in Bosnia had reversed any forward progress. In addition, in early 2002 the US announced that it would be withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to help protect NATO allies from Iranian missile attack (Rohde and Mohammed 2014). President Putin denounced the move as undermining nonproliferation efforts. Again, in Libya, Russia disapproved of the US removing Muammar al-Gaddafi from power. 38
Furthermore, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March of 2014, the US placed the first of many harsh sanctions on Russia in an attempt for a peaceful resolution. By the end of that year, US-Russian relations had deteriorated to levels last seen during the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev (Stent 2014). In October of 1980, Syria and the USSR signed the 20-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. The treaty automatically renews every five years, unless terminated by either party, and stipulates coordinating responses in the event of a crisis (Vicente-Caro 2017). The treaty also guarantees Russia’s use of the Port of Tartus —the only Russian military outpost left in the Mediterranean. When Syrian president Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took power and maintained his country’s close relationship with the Russian Federation. Between 2009 and 2013, Russia invested close to $20 million in Syria through weapons, military training, and other supplies that eventually aided the government in the Syrian Civil War (Dugulin 2015). On September 16, 2015, President Assad issued a formal request for military assistance in fighting ISIS, and Russian President Vladimir Putin complied. On September 30, 2015, Russia began airstrikes on targets throughout Syria and officially became involved in the Syrian conflict (Dugulin 2015). In August 2011, US president Barack Obama froze Syrian assets in the US government and called for President Assad to resign. He also warned Assad that the use of chemical weapons would force the US to intervene on behalf of the Syrian people. In August 2013, a sarin gas attack befell civilians in the rebel-held areas of Syria’s capital while they were sleeping. Two months later, Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention amid international pressure from the UN Security Council. That year, ISIS was believed to be responsible for multiple mustard gas attacks. Yet, it was not until September 2014 that the US began airstrikes in Syria on ISIS targets. According to the UN, the Syrian government was responsible for three known chemical attacks on civilians between 2013 and 2016. After taking office, US president Donald Trump, blamed the Obama administration for Assad’s “heinous” acts, citing former President Obama’s “weakness and irresolution” (Anonymous 2018). Recent confrontations between the Trump administration and Russia began early in 2017. On April 7, 2017, the US launched 58 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airbase in Syria. The base had been identified as the source of a chemical weapons attack that had occurred earlier in the week and killed over 80 people. Both Russian and Syrian forces were stationed at the base; however Russian authorities were notified of the strike in advance. Despite the Pentagon stating that the targets were strictly logistical, six Syrians were killed and several others were injured. In addition, six Syrian airplanes that were being repaired at the targeted airbase were destroyed, in contrast with the runways, which were left undamaged. After the strike, Russia vowed to boost Syrian air defenses in order 39