Both Russia and the United States are watching Syria for any signs that President Bashar al-Assad might be about to fall — but for different reasons.
The U.S. goal is to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the regime. Unlike in Iraq, the United States wants to try to ensure some elements of the Syrian military and key social services and structures in and around Damascus survive if Assad goes, so that Syria can begin to rebuild.
U.S. officials think that Russian President Vladimir Putin was making the same calculations about the regime’s odds when he began a military buildup there in September. His goal has been to step in and try to keep Assad in place — but also to ensure that if he does fall, Russia has influence in choosing his successor…
But — although a tipping point has not yet arrived — Assad is now pressed from all sides by a variety of fighters, and U.S. intelligence officials think Russia could face challenges keeping Assad in place given the strength of his opponents, including al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front and ISIS, also known as ISIL. It’s becoming a multifront war for the Syrians and the Russians.