Fresh regime offenses in Syria this week attempt to build on gains made earlier in October, yet they are being stymied by counter-offensives from rebels and the elements from the Islamic State which are threatening the regime’s supply lines. Nevertheless, Russia continues to launch airstrikes against rebel positions, softening up the various groups’ lines of control for the predicted new offensives.
Russia’s goal in Syria is daily becoming more obvious as a plan to bolster the Syrian regime and create favourable conditions on the ground in preparation for rumoured power-sharing negotiations. Russia is also hoping to divide Syrian rebels from each other by targeting some over others. The US appears to have come to an understanding with Russia on areas of operation in Syria.
Further north in Europe, Poland emerged this week from a general election with a new political party in control. The conservative Law and Justice Party won a large percentage (40%), placing it considerably far from other competitors to govern alone. It is the first time since 1989 that a Polish party will be able to rule without a coalition.
This new party will face the same demands and constraints as prior leaders, foremost of which is the reality of being geographically squeezed between an aggressive Russia and an economically degraded Europe. It will likely delay its required accession to the Eurozone and push back against policies regarding the redistribution of immigrants. It will also develop greater security ties with the US and UK with the crisis in Ukraine.
The US surprised many observers by making good on a promise to sail guided missile destroyer USS Lassen within a dozen miles of Subi Reef in the South China Sea. Other reports suggest the warship also sailed past the nearby Mischief Reef. The US warned China it would conduct a similar “freedom of navigation” exercise, which Beijing has called “provocative.”
China has been building artificial islands in the area for months, much to the frustration of Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia which also claim sovereignty in the region. The US’ display of force is both meant to reassure these US allies and reinforce the concept of freedom for all countries to sail unopposed inside international waters.
As such, it is no surprise the operation occurred a few weeks after the signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), both actions US President Barack Obama will use to prove his administration’s “Asia Pivot” strategy is serious. A free flow of navigation through international waters is crucial for the US and its allies across the world. However, Japan and other nations will insist on continued US Navy patrols in the South and East China Seas.