World Economy

No chance of Russia cutting ties with Assad, says former presidential advisor

Xenia Tan
'Russia has an enormous stake in the Assad regime'

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has arrived in Moscow following the G7 foreign ministers' meeting.

That meeting included Middle East nations that have opposed the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which has received renewed international criticism after recent chemical attacks allegedly conducted by his regime. Russia, for its part, has also come under fire for its open support of Assad's regime.

Tillerson is to meet Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in a bid to pressure Moscow on its involvement with Syria. However, his chances of doing so are "zero to nada," according to Marc Ginsberg, who formerly served as White House deputy senior advisor for Middle East policy.

"[The Russians] have heard all these arguments before from the Americans. And they don't think that Mr. Tillerson has much behind him to show that he can compel the Russians to do anything," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday.

Ginsberg said he hopes for higher odds of success, and that Russia will start playing a "more constructive role" to transition away from the Assad regime.

"Even though Assad ultimately may be expendable," Ginsberg said, "Russia has an enormous strategic stake in the Assad regime." He explained that Syria is Russia's doorway to the Middle East and holds some of its major military bases.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015.
REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

Ginsberg said "the United States has no real stake in the future of Syria, provided that we're able to eliminate the threat of extremism that is ISIS as well as the remnants of a resurgent Al-Qaeda inside Syria."

And without strong support from allies on the back of the G7 meeting in Italy, Ginsberg said that it "sends a strong message to Putin that the Europeans and the United States remain divided on what to do about Syria."

However, Ginsberg said the real problem for the situation in Syria is Iran.

"If the Russians have doubled down to support Assad, the Iranians have tripled down," he said. Iran considers Assad an essential component of the Shiite Crescent and "they're going to do everything they can to keep the Shiite regime in power. Assad is an essential bulwark, in their minds, against ISIS."

Russia is not the only country the U.S. is pressuring to make a move against an ally.

Deployment of U.S. Navy Strike group in Korean Peninsula

A U.S. aircraft carrier-led strike group has been deployed to the Korean Peninsula waters, which Ginsberg said is not just a warning to North Korea but also to China.

"I think the signal is as much a follow up to his meeting with [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] as it is to his warning to Pyongyang," Ginsberg said of President Donald Trump, adding that this could mean the U.S. leader is not going to remain patient for long.

It is likely, according to Ginsberg, that Trump's "efforts with President Xi of China to try to compel China to take stronger actions against North Korea's nuclear program, probably, did not result in any significant breakthrough."

Regarding North Korea's nuclear program, Ginsberg said he believes the unpredictability of the rogue state's actions makes it difficult to define a red line.

"The fact that we may see another nuclear test by the regime while the carrier group gathers around the Korean Peninsula, it almost reminds you — I hate to harken back to this — but it reminds you of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis," he said.

"Who's going to blink here? And it's extraordinarily dangerous in my judgment and there's no parallel in history because we've never had anything like this before, but I've been trying to study up on 1962 because that's the only parallel that I can draw," Ginsberg added.