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The Intelligence Review | volume 2 | issue 4 |

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.

to deter any future

to deter any future attacks (Graham-Harrison 2017). The strike had many analysts concerned about the future of US-Russian relations in Syria, hoping that the attack would not set a dangerous precedent for the region. The first face-to-face meeting between President Trump and President Putin took place on July 7, 2017, during the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. The topics discussed included Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, as well as Ukraine, and Syria. It was reported that President Trump accepted Russia’s strong denials of accusations that it meddled in the US elections, and President Putin called for an end to sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine Crisis. On the topic of Syria, the two leaders agreed on a ceasefire in the southwest regions of Deraa, Quneitra, and Suweida (Anon. 2017a). Ramzy Ramzy, the United Nations deputy special envoy to Syria, called that move a “positive development”, and said he hoped it would extend to other parts of Syria (Anon. 2017c). The meeting between the two presidents showed that the US and Russia were capable of striking partial agreements over Syria, to the benefit of both the region and the world. The two men did not meet again the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation Summit, which was held in Vietnam on November 10 and 11. During that summit, a formal meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin was attempted, but failed due to “scheduling conflicts on both sides” (Merica 2017). Despite this, the two leaders were able to speak briefly during a photo-op on Friday and before a plenary session on Saturday. After the summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared a joint statement calling for a political solution in Syria and insuring further cooperation on fighting ISIS. The two leaders also acknowledged that the only solution to the conflict in Syria was through the Geneva process, and affirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty (US Department of State 2017). The joint statement was very specific about how to move forward in Syria: “The two Presidents affirmed that these steps must include [...] constitutional reform and free and fair elections under UN supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate” (US Department of State 2017). This statement seems to contradict Russia’s wholehearted support for President Assad’s regime in Syria. Furthermore, it should be noted that, while the US has articulated its intent to remove Assad from power, that is no longer the primary goal of the US in Syria (Nichols 2017). Taking a step back from the Middle East, it must be acknowledged that some of the most recent developments pertaining to US-Russian relations have revolved around Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Not long after the interference was uncovered, former US President Barack Obama closed two diplomatic facilities in the US, in addition to ordering new sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies. In response, President Putin expelled 755 employees —most of them Russian citizens— working at American diplomatic facilities in 40

Russia. On August 21, 2017, the US embassy in Moscow stopped issuing travel visas to Russians (Erickson and Vitkovskaya 2017). The two countries also engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions in March of 2018, following the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian former spy living in Britain, allegedly on orders of the Kremlin. Although the Skripal incident and the controversy surrounding the 2016 election are important to US-Russian relations, they are unlikely to have a major impact on how the two countries interact in Syria. Currently, the public facade of the relationship between Presidents Trump and Putin is one of friendliness and agreeance; however this relationship has yet to be reflected in policy. Sanctions tied to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 have not been lifted, and despite the promise of free elections in Syria, Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its support for the Assad regime to remain in place. Russia announced on November 30, 2017, that it had begun preparations to downsize its military presence in Syria due to significant progress in defeating ISIS (Anon. 2017b). Future Trajectories There are multiple possible scenarios that could conclude the conflict in Syria after the defeat of ISIS; however, two of these are the most likely. The first scenario is that a free election is held “with all Syrians eligible to participate”, as outlined in the joint US-Russian statement discussed earlier (US Department of State 2017). This scenario would follow the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254, which calls for constitutional reform in addition to elections under UN supervision. If free elections are indeed held, rebel opposition groups currently fighting in Syria would be eligible to run for office. It can be assumed that President Assad, Syria’s current leader, would also run in the election. Based on the current political landscape in Syria —and assuming the absence of US or Russian influence— it can be stated with a moderate degree of confidence that the result of the election would keep Assad in power. Syrian rebel groups are numerous and hold considerable territory, but refuse to consolidate due to differences in ideology. Instead of stockpiling their votes behind one opposition candidate, they would spread their votes among multiple candidates, thus preventing any of them from gaining a majority victory. This analysis was based on the assumption that the US and Russia would not interfere with the election at all. This assumption is naive in the sense that both powers have made it perfectly clear who they want to have a strong say in Syria. It is likely that if free elections are held, the US and Russia would attempt to sway the vote, with the US supporting the opposition and Russia supporting the Assad regime. The results of such an election could affect US-Russian relations for decades, depending on which faction “wins”. 41

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The Intelligence Review | vol. 1 | iss. 1 |