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Senate foreign policy chairman: Russia the winner in Syria's civil war

Senate foreign policy chairman: Russia the winner in Syria's civil war
© Greg Nash

The outcome of Syria’s long-running civil war is effectively settled, according to the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And Russia won.  

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“Let’s face it: This is close to over now,” Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerFormer Ford CEO possible candidate for secretary of State: report Reid bids farewell to the Senate Reid defends relationship with McConnell in farewell speech MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday.

“It is very difficult at present, with Russia having stepped into the vacuum … now it’s a direct conflict with Russia,“ Corker added, “which is why there’s unlikely to be a Plan B.”

American inaction, Corker maintained — particularly following President Obama’s failure to act on the “red line” he imposed in 2013 with regard to the use of chemical weapons — has effectively empowered Russia’s support of embattled leader Bashar Assad.

“Let’s face it: We are empowering Assad,” Corker maintained on Wednesday.

“When we did not hit Assad in September of 2013 and said to the world — said to the world — that we could not be counted on. … Who propped up Assad more than anyone? We did!” Corker exclaimed. “We began by propping up Assad and making these hollow comments about ‘He had to go.’”

Corker’s comments on Wednesday came on the heels of this week’s announcement that the U.S. and Russia had reached a “cessation of hostilities” scheduled to go into effect on Saturday. 

The arrangement, which many viewed skeptically, will allow for continued airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other designated terror groups. However, it calls for both sides to stop seeking new territory and allow for humanitarian aide to pass through. 

Washington and Moscow have been at odds in the Syrian chaos. While both countries have claimed to be trying to root out terrorists, Russian forces have frequently targeted U.S.-backed rebels trying to unseat Assad from power.

According to Corker, Russia won’t change its calculus until challenges against Assad have been wiped out.

“Russia will cease activity once they’ve done everything they need to do, once they’ve basically rendered the free Syrian opposition … defeated,” Corker added. “They’ll stop once they get things on the ground where they want them to be.”

Leaders in Europe, Corker added, are "open” to that outcome now, if only to bring an end to the chaos which has sent a heavy stream of refugees to its borders.

“People look at their own self interests, their immediate self interests,” Corker said. “I do think they’re open to him being there for a while.”