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Kadri Liik, a Russia expert who is my colleague at the European Council on Foreign Relations, frames the debate about Syria as a conflict between two competing world-views.“Obama believes in democratic stability while Putin has never experienced democracy as anything other than chaos,” she says.
A report in the independent Russian newspaper claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria).
In recent months, too, there has been a growing clamour to create safe zones that would be free from Assad’s bombs.
By building up an ersatz air force for the Syrian leader, Moscow has made it harder for other countries to introduce no-fly zones or to use air power against Assad or Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia militia from Lebanon.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the cartoonishly evil leader of the so-called Islamic State.
His movement trades in fear – beheading aid workers, raping and enslaving women, using terror to scatter the conscript armies of Iraq and Syria.