Russia’s toxic role in the fight against ISIS

Hassan Hassan writes: Nearly two months into the Russian military intervention in Syria, it should be already clear this involvement has been toxic on multiple levels. So far, the move has caused at least two high points of polarisation not only inside Syria but also in the region at large, with little to show in terms of reversing the rebels’ gains on the ground.

Moscow’s decision to intervene on the side of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad had a unifying and galvanising effect for the ­anti-government forces. In a rare show of support for the Free Syrian Army, for example, individuals affiliated to extremist forces praised western-backed groups for destroying around 20 regime tanks during the first ground offensive assisted by Russian air cover. Armed factions seem to have increasingly adjusted to the merciless Russian bombardments and managed to make a number of significant gains against the regime, primarily in southern and northern Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the only major achievement for the regime forces has been to break the siege of the Kweiris airbase between Aleppo and Raqqa, although the base was not completely secured and ISIL returned to carry out suicide attacks outside it.

In the background of this meagre performance, the Turkish military downed a Russian jet last Tuesday. Some of the responses coming out of Russia about the incident are adding ­fuel to the fire raging in the region. For example, Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “Islamising” Turkey – suggesting that Moscow is either unaware of the landscape in the region or arrogantly ignoring it. For its part, the Russian embassy in the UK released poster art from 1915 mocking Ottoman soldiers.

These responses only help Mr Erdogan, who has long sought to present himself as a voice for Sunni Islam in the neighbourhood and beyond. While these statements may resonate positively within Russia, they are driving more people in the region to view the Russian intervention in Syria as part of a greater effort, not just an attempt to save a desperate ally. [Continue reading…]

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