President Barack Obama has pushed back against critics who say his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, bested him in Syria, where the two support opposing sides in a civil war.
In an interview with CBS News, Obama asked, “You don’t think that Mr Putin would’ve preferred having Mr Assad be able to solve this problem without him having to send a bunch of pilots and money that they don’t have?”
He argued that Russia’s military support for Bashar Assad was not an indication of strength. “It’s an indication that their strategy did not work.”
Russia deployed tanks, troops and military jets to its only Middle Eastern client state last month. It has since carried out attacks against Assad’s enemies.
The United States and their allies in the region, including the Sunni powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have supported opposition forces in the country.
Both America and Russia claim to fight the most fanatic of the anti-Assad forces: the self-declared Islamic State that also controls territory in neighboring Iraq.
But Western analysis shows that Russian jets have seldom bombed Islamic State positions.
Rather it is seems Russia’s aim is to prop up Assad in the west of his country by targeting Arab- and sometimes American-backed rebels there. That would leave the Islamic State as the only alternative to Russia’s ally; an unpalatable option to everyone in the region.