The idea du jour is to persuade the Russians to distance themselves from Assad. The thinking is that the Russians may be prepared to bail on the Assad family if remnants of the regime can be included in a transition allowing Moscow to maintain its influence.
This variation of the Yemeni approach, which is to squeeze out the autocrat but leave some of the old regime in place, may be worth a try. But the odds are long for its success. First, it’s not at all clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin, having seen Russia diddled by the Americans and Europeans on the Libyan intervention will want to be played the fool again. Russia may have lost much of its status as a great power, but Putin isn’t going to acquiesce in a game of dominoes in which the Americans knock over all of Moscow’s former friends — Qaddafi, Assad and even Iran. Indeed, Russia’s insistence that Iran be brought in as part of a new contact group suggests that Putin is in no hurry to solve the Syria problem.
The next round of the so-called P5 + 1 talks with Iran is in Moscow. And the Russians want a success. How much cooperation do we think we’re going to get from the Russians in muzzling, and in the case of Assad, bringing down their traditional allies? We may well have to choose between Putin’s cooperation on Iran and Syria.
Second, it’s not at all clear that the kind of transition we think the Russians will accept is workable. Get rid of Assad and leave many of the killers and killing units in place? How will that look after 10,000 plus are dead?