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Syria Deal Puts Russia, And Its Influence, In Spotlight


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel for a few hours today where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There, Kerry reiterated that the threat of force remains if Syria does not comply with the diplomatic deal to rid the country of its chemical weapon. Kerry will travel to Paris later in the day, where he'll try to drum up international consensus on the Syria plan with the French, British and the Saudis. The agreement, which the U.S. and Russia brokered yesterday, is being called one of the most challenging in the history of arms control and it brings together two unlikely leaders - President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

We're joined now by Konstantin von Eggert in Moscow. He is a Russian journalist who focuses on the Middle East. Thanks so much for being with us.

KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: So today we have out first comments from the government of Bashar al-Assad. A Syrian government minister said that the chemical weapons agreement was, in his words, a victory won thanks to our Russian friends. He was speaking to a Russian news agency but nevertheless, this is fulsome praise for Russia. How would you describe the influence that Vladimir Putin has over Bashar al-Assad?

VON EGGERT: I think it's very complicated to say that - what the real influence is. It's quite clear that Russia is the main defender of the Assad regime externally on the world scene. And I think for Putin, as he wrote in the New York Times, the defense of Assad is important not so much because of Assad himself, or even because of Russia's ties with Syria, but because Putin sees himself as defending the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs.

I think that it's a big gamble on the part of Putin. But because Bashar al-Assad is not a marionette, is not a puppet of the Kremlin, he - the decisions he's taken before are very much the decisions that he thinks are in the interest of his client and of his regime. And I suppose that implementing this agreement will be extremely difficult, if not impossible because that will demand huge international presence on Syrian soil.

But as a way of dragging out the sort of, you know, diplomatic discussions about chemical weapons, that is a good ploy and I suppose that Mr. Assad could well continue doing that for quite a few months.

MARTIN: This Russian peace initiative, as it's being called by some, seems to have for now placed Putin in the global spotlight. Does he appear to be relishing this role?

VON EGGERT: Yes, of course, he does. Putin relishes his role as, you know, I would say global rock star now. I think that you have to understand that his attitude to global politics is very specific. He's been around for 14 years now. He's seen them all. He's seen them all go and he's still around. Putin is very cynical and very determined to defend what he sees as Russia's and his own interests.

In dealing with the U.S., and especially with the current U.S. administration, is very easy for him. In fact, he despises President Obama for vacillation and indecisiveness and a lack of global political experience. He despises Secretary Kerry. He thinks he's just a chatterbox, nothing more than that.

So, dealing with American administration, poking fun at the American administration now is something that Vladimir Putin definitely relishes.

MARTIN: Very quickly, does Putin lose credibility if this plan doesn't work?

VON EGGERT: If this doesn't work out, which I think it will, it will be a very tough choice for him because he'll either have to stand up for Syria, probably militarily, or take a step back. I mean, both (unintelligible) for him.

MARTIN: Russian journalist Konstantin von Eggert in Moscow. Thank you so much for talking with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.