Russian lawmakers threaten US lines of communication to Afghanistan over Syria policy

Did Russia bail Barack Obama out of a jam of his own making, or did Vladimir Putin beat him in global diplomacy?  Even the former is hardly impressive, argues Jonathan Allen at Politico:

Talk about a Washington bailout.

President Barack Obama turned to once-reviled Russia for a way out of the Syria crisis. A weak-kneed Congress clung to his coattails. And Secretary of State John Kerry charted a course to Geneva, where he can dine with diplomats rather than count congressmen.

By the time the president addressed the nation on Tuesday night, much of official Washington had fallen in love with the idea of a diplomatic solution inducing Syria to give up its chemical weapons. That’s because Obama pushed the Syria problem back across the water’s edge — at least for now — giving himself and Congress hope that they won’t have to order up military strikes that remain deeply unpopular.

The Russian Duma doesn’t believe it’s a bailout.  CBS News reports that they want to push back against military action in Syria by choking off our lines of communication to Afghanistan — and if that doesn’t work, perhaps rehabilitating Iranian relations with fresh arms sales to send Washington a message. A well-connected deputy to the Putin government counseled patience, but assured his colleagues that those options remain on the table:

Russia could expand arms sales to Iran and revise the terms of U.S. military transit to Afghanistan if Washington launches a strike on Syria, a senior Russian lawmaker said Wednesday.

Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin-connected chief of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, told lawmakers that Moscow hopes that the U.S. will back Russia’s proposal for Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control for their subsequent dismantling.

During Wednesday’s debate in the Russian parliament of a draft resolution on Syria, Communists called for an increase in Russian weapons supplies to Iran and a revision of conditions for transit via Russia of supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pushkov said such action now would be premature as Russia and the U.S. are working to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he warned that if the “party of war” prevails in Washington, Russia should consider those moves.

“If the U.S. takes the path of exacerbating the situation and forgoing diplomacy for the sake of a military scenario, such measures would seem absolutely justified to me,” Pushkov said.

It’s a stark reminder of the limited leverage we have in taking on a new war.  Russia has pulled the chain on lines of communication to Afghanistan in the past, using their leverage to win concessions from the US or simply to make a point.  With Pakistan more and more disaffected from our efforts in the region, the loss of any lines of communication would make it more difficult to complete our mission by next year, if not impossible.  Stepping up arms sales to the Iranians would merely be a thumb in the eye to the US and Europe.

After yesterday’s thumb in the eye of public rejection of the terms offered by France on the deal which Obama grasped, the Russians have sent their own plan, although no terms have been made public:

Russian officials have given the United States a plan to put Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control, ahead of a key meeting between Moscow and Washington’s top diplomats in Geneva, reports said Wednesday.

“We handed over to the Americans a plan to place chemical weapons in Syria under international control. We expect to discuss it in Geneva,” Russian news agencies quoted a source in the Russian delegation to the talks as saying.

The source did not provide any further details on the plan.

This may not be a take-it-or-leave-it proposal, but it will probably be close to one.  Putin issued his own ultimatum yesterday to Obama, demanding that he renounce any military action against Syria as a condition of Russian mediation.  Obama notably provided no answer to that ultimatum yesterday, and if the US has had any response to it, it’s been a lot more low-key than was Putin’s demand yesterday.

This settles the question of whether this was a bailout or a Putin victory, doesn’t it?