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Marc Champion

Putin's Target Is Not Islamic State

For Russia, keeping Assad in power is the goal. That won't bring peace.
Assad's handiwork.

Assad's handiwork.

Photographer: ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images

Anybody who hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would have the key to defeating Islamic State or bringing peace to Syria just got their answer: The first airstrikes in Russia’s air campaign in that benighted country didn’t target the terrorist group at all.

Instead, Putin followed President Bashar al-Assad’s playbook. The Syrian leader's forces have rarely taken on Islamic State unless forced to do so. Indeed, Assad has seen the fanatical Islamist force as a useful ally in persuading the international community that Syria’s war consists of a choice between him and barbarians, with nothing in between. As Putin put it in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week, Assad is “valiantly fighting terrorism face-to-face.”