AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.
President Putin is defending his new ramped-up intervention in Syria, which defies the United States by deploying a new military base, personnel and equipment such as tanks, using air corridors that include Greek and Iraqi airspace to fly to Syria.
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VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We have supported the Syrian government, I would like to say that, as it confronts terrorist aggression; we have provided and will provide all the necessary military and technical support and we call on other countries to join us.
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AMANPOUR: But last night on this program, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, lambasted Moscow's new move to bolster Assad.
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SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: To support a regime like this and to not take account of the views of the vast majority of the Syrian people that want to go in a different direction, is not going to either bring peace or actually succeed in defeating terrorism, which is what President Putin says his priority is.
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AMANPOUR: Now rumors and reports of these new Russian maneuvers have been circulating for two weeks now until yesterday the Pentagon finally admitted that it is seeing news of Russian deployments on a daily basis.
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AMANPOUR (voice-over): And this satellite image taken on September 4th is said to show the early stages of construction of a Russian base at an airport near Latakia.
And these images of an armored vehicle painted in Russian camouflage on the battlefield -- and not seen before in Syria -- recently aired on Syrian television.
So what is Russia's game? I'm joined by Nikolay Kozhanov, Moscow's former political attache to Tehran and now a Russian foreign policy expert at the Carnegie Moscow.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Mr. Kozhanov.NIKOLAY KOZHANOV, FORMER POLITICAL ATTACHE, RUSSIAN EMBASSY, TEHRAN: Hello.
AMANPOUR: What is President Putin's game?
Why more and a ramped-up military presence?
We know there's already Russian military and naval advisers, et cetera, in Tartus.
But why now? Why more?
KOZHANOV: Well, it's determined by two factors. First of all, by the development of the military situation on the ground in Syria during the spring and summer and the losses of the regime, they demanded the Russians to increase the number of their arms supplies just to balance the situation in Assad's favor.
And at the same time, we should also keep in mind the forthcoming General Assembly --
KOZHANOV: -- and it's also important for the Russians not to come to this assembly with empty hands. They are increasing their numbers on the ground; they definitely show to the international community that you should deal with us and you should take our point into account.
AMANPOUR: So from your perspective, is it a full hand they want to come to the table with, just to say deal with us?
Or is it much more pragmatic and that is they absolutely want at all costs to preserve Assad in whatever rump state that that may take?
KOZHANOV: Well the Russian strategy is probably even a bit more complicated. So they are not fighting for Assad as a person but what the Russians believe in, that Assad, as well as the Syrian regime, is the key element in their strategy of struggle against the IS, that they see as a serious challenge for their national security.
And so far they see no alternative. As a result, they would like to launch the conflict settlement process in Syria and that's why they intensify their interaction with all sponsors of Syrian opposition, but at the same time they need to be sure that Assad will make it long enough to see the beginning of these negotiations.
AMANPOUR: So from your perspective, and from the Kremlin's perspective, what possibly can they hope for Assad -- yes, they're sending in more military to bolster his depleted forces.
But what about his territory? Let's just look at this map, which shows in red the very small amount of Syrian territory that the Assad regime still controls.
And there is word that Russia would be interested in at least defending this and bolstering this as somewhere Assad could stay.
KOZHANOV: Well, first of all, it's not the Russians who are determining the Assad strategy, fortunately or unfortunately.
And currently, it's obvious that the regime will decide to make the main stake on guarding the territory that forms its dominion, namely the socket (ph) area, the coastal area and the main cities like Damascus, Homs and Hama.
And definitely the increasing the -- in the -- in the equipment and arms provided to them as well as the increasing the quality of arms provided, it is supposed to help the Syrian authorities to implement their plan.
AMANPOUR: You know, you say Russia is not interested in Assad as a person. But that seems to fly in the face of what we've seen over the last 4.5 years, in every instance. The Russians have been his political cover and have simply not allowed any other kind of political solution without Assad.
And the Russians say they want to fight terrorism. But surely it is Assad who has been the main progenitor of the rise of ISIS.
So it all sort of doesn't make much sense at all.
KOZHANOV: Well, it depends on how we look at the situation. You know that to understand the Russians' move, you should not judge the real situation on the ground. But you should try to have a look at how the Russians understand what's happening in Syria.
And in their mind, Assad is not the source of the problem; it's the key -- it's actually the way to solve it. And --
AMANPOUR: Despite evidence to the contrary, that for 4.5 years with Russian support and Iranian military support, Assad has not been able to solve it and it's not solvable, it seems, at the moment.
KOZHANOV: Well, again, the Russian authorities would probably not agree with you or with people who are supporting this point of view because for them --
AMANPOUR: But this is just a fact, it's not a point of view. I'm simply - -
KOZHANOV: -- as in -- but again, I can repeat that. It's not a matter of how the situation's developing on the ground. It's the matter how the Russians are seeing it.
AMANPOUR: So do you think -- because obviously it's really sent the wind up Washington's sails; everybody, you heard what Ambassador Power said, that this is just -- flies in the face of reality on the ground.
Do you think that President Putin is trying to say, look, President Obama, I'll come here with my new military base and start striking ISIS as well?
I mean, are they going to deploy fighter jets?
Are they going to deploy personnel, do you think, to launch strikes against ISIS?
KOZHANOV: Well, unfortunately we do not have a crystal ball to see the future. So far, from my point of view, the Kremlin is keeping in mind only the increasing supplies. And this increase definitely demands this increase in the number of devices, who are to train the Syrian army, also - -
AMANPOUR: And a new forward operating base; that is a specific piece of technical reality there.
KOZHANOV: Exactly. And you need people to guide these advisers and so that's why you're bringing Marines and each Marine has --
AMANPOUR: And we see it all in the satellite pictures.
KOZHANOV: Exactly. Exactly. But at the same time, so far I do not see any incentives for Moscow to bring forces on the ground to fight for Assad as such.
First of all, it's difficult to make in terms of the expenses. The Russian economy is not able to sustain such a heavy loss, load, giving the Russian involvement in the situation the Ukraine.
AMANPOUR: So do you think, then, that what President Putin is doing here - - and he's managed to get countries like Greece and Iraq to defy a U.S. request not to allow Russian transport planes to fly through their airspace; Bulgaria has said no, but the Greeks are letting him and then Iraq -- which, by the way, depends on the United States right now for its very survival against ISIS -- is allowing this to happen.
It does seem to be setting up yet another chapter in a confrontation with the U.S. and perhaps taking the world's eye off what Russia's doing in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
KOZHANOV: Well, I would be a bit cautious about mixing these two stories, the Ukrainian story and the Syrian story for Moscow. Definitely they are interdependent. But only in terms, the both of them, they represent challenges for the Russians but challenges of a different nature because, while what the Russians are doing in Ukraine is mainly related to their relations with the West, at the same time, the Syrian challenges, the challenge for them is national security as such.
And I remember talking to Russian officials a couple of years ago when the Maidan -- Euro Maidan has --
AMANPOUR: Those were the independence and democracy protests.
KOZHANOV: Yes, exactly.
And what they were saying, they were saying that we are a bit concerned, that we won't be able to deal with both of these challenges -- because the Russian resources, they are limited and they could be overstretched.
AMANPOUR: What do you think we're going to hear from President Putin at the U.N. General Assembly?
What is the end game?
KOZHANOV: Well, generally, he is -- well, his view on the situation in Syria was clearly stated just today in Dushanbe, during the CSTO meeting.
So he was saying about the necessity to, on the one hand, launch the national dialogue in Syria between the Assad regime and what he determines as healthy opposition -- that's still quite a big question what he means by this.
On the other hand, he's trying to create the anti-IS coalition but in the way how the Russians are seeing this.
And by the way, they managed to achieve some success and progress in this, just we should take into account, for instance, the visit of the Egyptian president in August to Moscow, where the General Sisi officially confirmed that he would be interested in supporting the Putin's point of view.
And the Russians, they are also quite active in establishing dialogue with the Gulf states and with the United States. And, in some cases, what the Western officials as well as the Russian officials are saying, they managed to start creating the common ground for the understanding.
But again, these processes demand time and serious (INAUDIBLE) conflict.
AMANPOUR: Lax time? Yes, indeed, it does.
Nikolay Kozhanov, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.
KOZHANOV: Thank you.
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