How Russia is changing course in Syria / Maxim A. Suchkov

<p style="text-align:left">Russian President Vladimir Putin&amp;rsquo;s Special Envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin traveled to Damascus Dec. 2 to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. A read-out of the visit from the Russian Foreign Ministry said the parties discussed &amp;ldquo;the necessity to restore Syria&amp;rsquo;s territorial integrity and unity with due account of the interests of all ethnic and religious groups,&amp;rdquo; while stressing the importance of further anti-terrorism efforts. The three men also discussed humanitarian aid and progress toward writing a new constitution ahead of elections as called for by the UN Security Council.

Why it matters: On the same day, the commander of Russian forces in Syria, Lt. Gen. Alexander Chayko, met with the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Kobani. Kobani later tweeted in Russian that the two parties had reached a "high level of understanding&rdquo; and agreed on Russian military deployments in the towns of Amuda, Tell Tamer and Ayn Issa in northeast Syria. &ldquo;We expect our cooperation to lead to stabilization and peace in our country,&rdquo; Kobani wrote.
Earlier in the day, a Russian military police vehicle was attacked while on patrol in Syria&rsquo;s Aleppo province near the border with Turkey. Three officers were injured from what the Russian Defense Ministry called a homemade bomb. The attack embodies Russia&rsquo;s concerns that its forces may be subject to attack as they establish a foothold in the area following the October deal on northern Syria struck by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
What&rsquo;s next: Chayko, 48, was appointed commander of the Russian forces in Syria in September. His predecessor, Gen. Col. Andrey Serduykov, 57, had been serving in that capacity for the previous six months.
Serdyukov&rsquo;s main task in Syria was to facilitate the implementation of Russian-Turkish agreements on joint patrols in the Idlib de-escalation zone. Following a meteoric rise that saw him appointed deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces in February, Chayko is now tasked with implementing Russian-Turkish agreements in northeastern Syria, in particular in the area of Turkey&rsquo;s incursion against Syrian Kurdish militants close to the SDF.
Russian defense analyst Ruslan Pukhov has described Chayko as being not only a military man but also &ldquo;a politician and diplomat who successfully deals with tasks of humanitarian and economic nature in Syria.&rdquo;
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