We’re going to keep this one (relatively) short. I’ve written about Russia’s goals in Syria elsewhere (see here as well).
A Bloomberg article from Monday commendably recognizes that Russia’s goals in Syria are “far broader” than the official goal of fighting Salafi terrorists. The authors fall short of “getting” what the Russian involvement there is about, but they’re on the right track.
As Russia and Iran move in more overtly on Syria, it’s important to understand that their objective is not to prop up a weak, dependent Bashar al-Assad. Doing that is a convenience. Assad functions now as a fig leaf for the real objective of his long-time patrons: establishing effective control of the territory of Syria.
The Western media will probably keep saying, by rote, that Russia and Iran are supporting Assad – just as they will keep saying that the U.S. coalition is battling Islamic State. But there’s a reason for the “why this summer; why right now” behind Russia’s seemingly sudden strategic move on Syria. And it’s not the superficial motives being attributed to Russia or Iran.