RUSSIA IN SYRIA: THE FOREIGN POLICY OF INTERVENTION
"U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Friday that its bombing campaign against Syrian rebels will suck Moscow into a "quagmire," after a third straight day of air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad. At a White House news conference, Obama frequently assailed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he accused of acting out of a position of weakness to defend a crumbling, authoritarian ally. Friday prayers were canceled in insurgent-held areas of Syria's Homs province hit by Russian warplanes this week, with residents concerned that mosques could be targeted, according to one person from the area. Putin's decision to launch strikes on Syria marks a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in a more than four-year-old civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake. It also gives fuel to domestic critics of Obama who say his unwillingness to act on Syria has allowed Moscow to stage its biggest show of force in the Middle East in decades. But the U.S. president warned that Russia and Iran, Assad's main backer in the Muslim world, have isolated the majority of Syrians and angered their Sunni Muslim neighbors. "An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won't work," Obama said".Alistair Bell and Tom Perry, "Obama warns Russia's Putin of 'quagmire' in Syria". Reuters. 2 October 2015, in www.reuters.com.
"Russia's decision to begin airstrikes in Syria should not come as a surprise. Moscow's preparations for this scenario were first known two months ago in mid-August, when various media sources began reporting about Russian military delegations who were arriving in Syria to assess the capacities of local airfields to host Russian fighter jets. Subsequent information about the reconstruction of Latakia airport and two other airfields in the area controlled by the Assad regime only strengthened conviction that Moscow was preparing for a military operation. Finally, in the second half of September, when the number of Russian fighter jets and military helicopters in Syria exceeded the number of actual Syrian pilots available to use them, the last doubts about Moscow's intentions disappeared. And now it has finally happened. The decision to begin a military operation in Syria fits logically into the broader Russian strategy of settling the Syrian conflict on Moscow's conditions. Putin continues to insist that any peace settlement in Syria should be based around the existing Syrian state structures and institutions, and some sort of power-sharing between the Damascus regime and the 'healthy' elements of the opposition. Moscow absolutely rejects the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power as a precondition for the beginning of the national dialogue. To the Russians, Assad is the only person capable of standing up to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and keeping Syria from total collapse. This vision of the situation drastically differs from that of the West and many Middle Eastern countries, who consider Assad as the source of the Syrian problem rather than part of any solution. Yet the Kremlin is now determined to try to change that via a two-track approach. On the one hand, since spring this year, Russian diplomats have intensified their dialogue with the West and the Middle Eastern countries (initially the Gulf states) to impose Moscow's views on the actual settlement of the conflict. On the other hand, their military support is helping to guarantee that the Syrian regime can hold out long enough for the Kremlin to achieve a desirable breakthrough on the diplomatic track. Under these circumstances, Moscow's military presence in Syria may become important leverage used by the Russians in their game in the Middle East".Nikolay Kozhanov, "Russia's Military Intervention in Syria Makes It a Key Regional Player". The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 2 October 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org The reality of the whys and wherefores of Russian military intervention are closer I believe to the description given to it by Nikolay Kozhanov of Chatham House, rather than that of the American President and his administration. So to employ the example of 'Afghanistan' circa 1979 to my mind, misses the point entirely 1. Russian military activity appears to be consist solely of the employment of air power. At this point in time, as I have noted in my prior entry on this topic, Moskva does not appear to be interested nor has it readied itself for, employing large numbers of ground forces. Currently, there are less than one-thousand possible ground troops that Russia can employ in Syria. Unless and until that number changes, and Russian ground forces in large numbers (more than say ten-thousand at a minimum), are positioned in Syria, can the example of 'Afghanistan' be used. As previously mentioned in this journal, the rationale for Russian military intervention is both multi-faceted and simple: i) assist the Assad Regime to survive by assisting it militarily. Primarily by the employment of air power. Admittedly of a rather brutal variety; ii) ensure that Russia has a position at the 'top table' in any negotiations which might take place in the future; iii) to assist 'ii' to occur in the near future, by making sure that the backers of the opposition to Assad Fils: the Americans, the Gulf Arabs, the Saudis, Turkey, and the French, understand that it is simply impossible to defeat Assad on the ground. And that any escalation of support for the opposition, will be met by Russian and Persian intervention on the other side. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the fighting in Syria at the moment, with or without Russian intervention is systematically destroying the country and its people. The fact that the Russians, for reasons good or ill, has had a better 'read' on what is going on in Syria than the Americans and the other Western Powers since 2011, simply makes Russian reasoning all the more cogent, if not politically speaking acceptable, to Washington and Riyadh. The fact of the matter is, that even with the active co-operation between Washington and Moskva, 'fixing' the Syrian imbroglio will require tremendous efforts by all concerned. As the American military commentator, Anthony Cordesman, among others has pointed out:
The problem is that the “forest” is dying, burning, and occupied by four broad sets of fighters that have little reason to cooperate with any UN-led negotiating effort, outside agreement over Assad – with or without U.S. and Russian cooperation. To shift from one cliché to another, Syria presents far more problems than Humpty Dumpty. “All the king's horses and all the king's men” couldn’t put Syria back together by negotiating a solution from the outside even if there was one King instead of a divided mix of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, the other states surrounding Syria, the Arabian Gulf states, Egypt, and France and the other interested European powers 2.1. Geoff Dyer, "Putin risks Syria quagmire to remain step ahead of Obama". The Financial Times. 2 October 2015, in www.ft.com. 2. Anthony Cordesman, "The Long War in Syria: The Trees, the Forest, and All the King’s Men". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 1 October 2015, in www.csis.org. See Also: Charles Glass, "In the Syrian Deadlands". The New York Review of Books. 22 October 2015, pp. 8-12. On the fact that Russia has had a better idea as to the possibilities of what a post-Assad Syria would look like, see: John R. Bradley, "Why Putin backs Assad: the West's strategy on Syria is a complete shambles". The Spectator. 26 September 2015, pp. 16-17.