Saturday, March 15, 2014

US Intel: "Assad has as good as won"

'Despite the meager results of Secretary of State Kerry’s six hours of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on March 14th, State Department officials are not despairing of a diplomatic solution to the Crimea crisis. Kerry is calling the talks “constructive.” Contrary to the media build-up, officials never saw the session with Lavrov as “last ditch’ or “make or break.” One official summed things up to us: “We were certainly hoping for more, but Kerry was able to use his already good relationship with Lavrov to offer a number of very specific ideas for greater autonomy for Crimea. These will form the basis of further talks after the referendum.”  Critics on the Hill, however, believe that the referendum will only harden Moscow's position in having the Crimea return to Russian sovereignty.  This is not to say that that situation is not extremely volatile. There is deep concern in Washington that President Putin has misread the determination of the West to impose costs on him or – much worse – that he will intervene in Eastern Ukraine if civic disturbances continue there. The Administration’s hope is that the increasingly tough approach adopted by German Chancellor Merkel – who is seen in Washington as the pivotal player – will convince Putin to have second thoughts. As an NSC analyst commented to us: “We have a good understanding about Lavrov but we hardly any read of Putin.” There is a sense of foreboding that, once sanctions start to be imposed, attitudes will harden in Moscow and the crisis will turn into a prolonged one – with implications on other issues in the US-Russia relationship like Syria, Iran, North Korea and nuclear disarmament. With new P5+1 talks due with Tehran next week, US officials are at present encouraged that the Russian attitude remains cooperative.  Regarding Syria, US attention has dropped precipitately, with the result that US intelligence analysts are warning that Assad is making military gains that will be near impossible to reverse. One analyst commented to us: “Assad has as good as won.” ...'

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