Why Russia’s intervention in Syria is causing unease in Tehran

Alex Vatanka writes: In Washington, Iran’s stance on the Syrian war is seen as intractably pro-Assad due to Tehran’s ideological fortitude and regional hegemonic ambitions. But the sentiment among Iran’s elites is not as monolithic as it may appear.

The hard-liners, to be sure, remain purists in their anti-Americanism. In what they see as an epic zero-sum game, they are willing to tolerate a stronger Russian foothold in the Middle East as long as it costs the United States and its allies, the Saudis and the Turks. They are interested in quick wins and will worry about the implications later.

However, this is not necessarily the prevailing view among the moderates in Tehran around President Hassan Rouhani, despite the Iranian president sounding categorical in his defense of Assad at the UN General Assembly on September 28. While the moderate Iranian voices on Syria have been drowned out over the last four years, Russia’s military buildup might push them to speak up again. There are some heavy hitters among their ranks, and they have a strong case to argue.

Take Mohammad Sadr, a leading Iranian diplomat and today a top advisor to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. In 2013 Sadr spoke against unconditional support for the Assad regime and warned about the damage it could do to Iran’s regional standing. He famously recalled how he had witnessed the Syrian security force’s brutality while serving as deputy foreign minister in the 1990s. Sadr is no peripheral figure in Tehran. Although his claim that “Assad is no different than Saddam” irked hard-liners, his political heft and family ties, including a relation to Ayatollah Khomeini, was enough to insulate him. He embodies the underlying reservations in the Rouhani camp about Tehran’s most controversial foreign policy pursuits. Russia’s blatant power grab has given this camp new space to raise hard questions. [Continue reading…]


Putin looks at Syria and sees Chechnya

In March 2013, Fiona Hill wrote: For Putin, Syria is all too reminiscent of Chechnya. Both conflicts pitted the state against disparate and leaderless opposition forces, which over time came to include extremist Sunni Islamist groups. In Putin’s view — one that he stresses repeatedly in meetings with his U.S. and European counterparts — Syria is the latest battleground in a global, multi-decade struggle between secular states and Sunni Islamism, which first began in Afghanistan with the Taliban, then moved to Chechnya, and has torn a number of Arab countries apart. Ever since he took office (first as prime minister in 1999 and then as president in 2000) and was confronted by the Chechen war, Putin has expressed his fear of Sunni Islamist extremism and of the risks that “jihadist” groups pose to Russia, with its large, indigenous, Sunni Muslim population, concentrated in the North Caucasus, the Volga region, and in major cities such as Moscow. A desire to contain extremism is a major reason why Putin offered help to the United States in battling the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. It is also why Russia maintains close relations with Shia Iran, which acts as a counterweight to Sunni powers.

In the case of Chechnya, Putin made it clear that retaking the republic from its “extremist opposition forces” was worth every sacrifice. In a speech in September 1999, he promised to pursue Chechen rebels and terrorists even into “the outhouse.” He did just that, and some opposition leaders were killed by missile attacks at their most vulnerable moments. The Chechen capital city of Grozny was reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, along with jihadist fighters who came into Chechnya with the encouragement of extremist groups from the Arab world, including from Syria. Moscow and other Russian cities endured devastating terrorist attacks. Putin’s treatment of Chechnya became a cautionary tale of what would happen to rebels and terrorists — and indeed to entire groups of people — if they threatened the Russian state. They would either be eliminated or brought to their knees — exactly the fate Putin wishes for today’s Syrian rebels.

After two decades of secessionist strife, Putin has contained Chechnya’s uprising. Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched his allegiance to Moscow, now leads the republic. Putin granted Kadyrov and his supporters amnesty and gave them a mandate to go after other militants and political opponents. Kadyrov has rebuilt Grozny (with ample funds from Moscow) and created his own version of an Islamist and Chechen republic that is condemned by human rights organizations for its brutal suppression of dissent.

For the past two years, Putin has hoped that Assad would be able to do what he did in Chechnya and beat back the opposition. Based on the brutal record of Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, in suppressing uprisings, Putin anticipated that the regime would have no problem keeping the state together. [Continue reading…]


Putin’s fight in Syria, also a struggle with bitter enemies at home

McClatchy reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entry this week into the long-running Syrian civil war is driven as much by concerns over the number of Russian speakers among jihadist rebel groups as it is over worries about his country’s place in the Middle East, analysts say.

Russian speakers – from Chechnya as well as other former Soviet Union republics – compose the single largest group of non-Arab foreign fighters in Syria, not just in the Islamic State but also in al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.

On Thursday, according to a statement by a Syrian security official reported by the AFP news agency, Russian warplanes based in Syria targeted Nusra’s facilities in Idlib province where Chechen fighters maintain a significant presence. Among the groups struck, according to the AFP report, was the Army of the Emigrants, a group composed largely of Russian speakers that was once headed by Georgian-Chechen jihadist Abu Omar al Shishani. [Continue reading…]

Mairbek Vatchagaev writes: Despite the lack of clarity about the figures, it can be said that several thousand militants from the post-Soviet space may be fighting in Syria in a variety of groups. The vast majority, probably over 3,000, are estimated to be Chechens.

It is unclear why Russia sat back for so long and allowed the militants in Syria to consolidate. Now, they pose a danger not only to the Russian North Caucasus, but also to areas in Central Asia adjacent to Russia. Citizens of Central Asian states have also started to resettle in Syria in large numbers. Thus, Russia will try not only to help President al-Assad, but also to kill as many of its own citizens—and citizens from states neighboring Russia—who are fighting in the Middle East as possible, before they return to their homelands. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has asked Vladimir Putin to send him to Syria, claiming that a land operation using Chechen ground troops would wipe out Islamic State terrorists.

“The terrorists don’t know what a real war is, because they have only been subjected to airstrikes. They don’t have experience of real military action,” said Kadyrov in an interview with a Russian news agency.

“If our request is granted, it will be a celebration for us,” he said. “But it’s the decision of the commander-in-chief to take.”

Putin is unlikely to grant Kadyrov’s wish, having made it clear several times that current Russian military action in Syria will involve airstrikes only.

When the decision to launch strikes was taken on Wednesday, Kadyrov said it was unfortunate there would be no land operation, and on Friday he again emphasised his readiness to send some of his fearsome battalions into Syria.

“As a Muslim, as a Chechen, as a patriot of Russia, I am stating that in 1999, when our republic was seized by these devils, we gave our oath on the Qur’an that all our lives we would fight against them, wherever they are. I am not just saying this, I’m asking that we are allowed to go there and take part in these special operations,” said Kadyrov.

Kadyrov’s father was a mufti in Chechnya who fought against the Russians during the first Chechen war in the 1990s. However, he switched sides and pledged allegiance to Moscow. He was killed in a bomb attack in 2004, since when Ramzan has been the leader of Chechnya, first de facto and then officially.

Kadyrov has been implicated in a number of high-profile political murders, and his forces have been accused of a wide range of rights abuses, but he is tolerated by the Kremlin for the relative peace his rule has brought to Chechnya after a decade of bloodshed. His policies to quell the Islamic insurgency have included burning down the houses of relatives of suspected militants. [Continue reading…]


Following Russia’s intervention in Syria, will Saudi Arabia supply rebels with the kinds of weapons they’ve long been denied?

The Guardian reports: Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already embroiled in an expensive and bloody war in Yemen that may limit both their military and financial resources. They have also so far deferred to western bans on transferring hi-tech weapons – including missiles that could take down aircraft – over fears that they might change hands in the chaos of the war and be used against their makers.

“The uncertain question today is the degree of power combined with efficiency that regional powers will be willing to bring to the table,” said [Julien] Barnes-Dacey [senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations]. “Do the Saudis now try to take matters decisively into their hands, including by providing rebels with sophisticated weaponry long denied them?

“The new [Saudi] king [Salman] has shown a willingness to be much more assertive and take measures into the kingdom’s own hands. If the Saudis see the situation slipping out of their hands, and there is a real sense that the Iranians are consolidating their position in Syria, you could see much stronger response.”

That is unlikely to go as far as troops on the ground, however, and not only because so many assets are already tied up in Yemen.

“A Saudi military role would be too much of an escalation,” said analyst Hassan Hassan, author of Isis: Inside the Army of Terror. “It’s seen as far from Syria, not seen as a direct security threat. With Yemen, people have accepted [Saudi] hegemony for years, unlike Syria, where Iran is seen as dominant.

“The best way to respond to the Russian intervention is to engage the rebels more and step up support so they can face down the escalation and create a balance on the ground,” he said. “The Russians will [then] realise there are limits to what they can achieve in Syria, and modify their approach.” But the wider regional struggle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran makes it almost impossible for Riyadh to walk away, whatever the cost. [Continue reading…]


Russia in Syria: What damage will it do?

Julian Borger writes: Sending troops and military hardware into the middle of another country’s civil war to prop up a ruthless and despised dictator rarely turns out well for anyone, and all the signs suggest that Vladimir Putin’s adventure in Syria will be no exception.

Not all the damage Russia wreaks will be self-inflicted. There are likely be plenty of other losers. Most analysts agree that in the absence of a very quick pivot to diplomacy leading to a real political transition in Damascus, the intervention is likely to prolong the conflict and escalate it, drawing other regional powers in more deeply.

The only beneficiaries may be Islamic State (Isis) recruiters, who can only be grateful for the Russian orthodox church’s designation of Putin’s expeditionary campaign as a “holy war”. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Russia estimates its air strike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the lower house of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee said on Friday.

“There is always a risk of being bogged down but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months,” Alexei Pushkov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told French radio station Europe 1. He added that the strikes were going to intensify. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Russian warplanes have struck targets deep inside the Islamic State’s heartland province of Raqqa for the first time, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Friday.

The strikes were carried out against an Islamic State training camp and a command post near the city of Raqqa, expanding the scope of a three-day old air campaign that had previously focused on attacking rebel groups opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Those attacks continued Friday, with one U.S.-backed rebel group in the northwestern province of Hama saying its bases had been hit for the sixth time in three days by Russian jets.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said the Raqqa strikes took place overnight Thursday and were among 18 sorties conducted over the previous 24 hours, bringing to 30 the total number of raids since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]


Iraq PM open to Russian airstrikes on ISIS

FRANCE24 reports: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told FRANCE24 in an exclusive interview broadcast on Thursday that he is open to allowing Russia to carry out air strikes against Islamic State group militants in Iraq.

“Not yet. It is a possibility. If we get the offer, we will consider it,” Abadi told FRANCE24.

“It is in our interest to share information with Russia. Russia has a lot of information. The more information we gather the more I can protect the Iraqi people,” Abadi added. [Continue reading…]


Wake-up call on Syrian army weakness prompted Russian intervention

Ian Black writes: Syrian military weakness, painfully exposed over the last few months, is the main reason for direct Russian intervention in the war – whether its goal is to strike at Islamic State or, more likely, to take on any rebel force fighting Bashar al-Assad in order to shore up his position and stave off demands that he step down.

Officials and analysts say Moscow decided to deepen its involvement after the fall of the northern towns of Idlib and nearby Jisr al-Shughour in May served as a “wake-up call” about the parlous state of the Syrian army. Both were taken by the Jaysh al-Fateh (the Victory Army), a coalition of Islamist rebels.

Russia’s move was prompted in part by Assad’s other main ally, Iran, which plays a powerful though discreet role in Syria but is usually reluctant to commit its own forces. “The Iranians told the Russians bluntly: if you don’t intervene, Bashar al-Assad will fall, and we are not in a position to keep propping him up,” said a Damascus-based diplomat. [Continue reading…]


How Russia bombed a UN Heritage Site in Syria

NOW reports: An area of over six square kilometers ignited all of a sudden. The whole region was ablaze in seconds. Kafranbel-based Raed Fares said he has seen the town being bombed by the Syrian regime before. “But I have never seen anything like this in my life,” he told NOW, minutes after the Russian jets had bombed the outskirts of his town. “I don’t know what kind of missile this was, but the impact was huge, scary.”

The Russian jets showed up around noon on Thursday and the bomb hit an archeological Byzantine complex in the vicinity of Kafranbel. “It used to be a refugee camp until recently, but the Free Syrian Army brigades returned the civilians to their homes in the towns in the area so that the historical monuments wouldn’t be damaged,” he said.

Kafranbel is a small town in Syria’s Idlib Governorate. Before the war it was home to roughly 15,000 people, mostly Sunni Muslims. It was Syria’s largest producer of figs and a major producer of olives. It also sits on a dead Byzantine city and is surrounded by some of the famous Forgotten Cities, the 700 abandoned settlements in northwest Syria between Aleppo and Idlib that were abandoned between the 8th and 10th centuries. Serjilla, Shanshrah, and Al-Bara are close to modern-day Kafranbel. The Russians bombed Shanshrah, a UN World Heritage Site, twice on Thursday. [Continue reading…]


Will Russia’s move ruin Erdogan’s plan for Syria?

Kadri Gursel writes: Ankara is now likely to be forced to end the de facto situation — virtually a no-fly zone — it has enforced casually in border areas since 2012. In June 2012, after a Turkish reconnaissance plane was shot down by an air defense system in Syria, Ankara announced new rules of engagement, including the interception of Syrian aircraft flying close to Turkish airspace. There has been no indication so far that these rules of engagement have changed. Since the summer of 2012, Turkish media have occasionally reported incidents of Turkish fighter jets taking off from their bases to chase off Syrian planes and helicopters flying “too close” to the border.

Ankara-backed Islamist groups fighting Assad’s regime have emerged as the main beneficiary of these rules of engagement, which have effectively served as a Turkish air cover for their military and logistical operations in border regions.

Now, the following question arises: Will Ankara stick to its rules of engagement if airplanes approaching the border have the Russian star on their wings? My guess is that the rules of engagement will not be enforced against Russian aircraft, thus ending the de facto air cover for the rebels.

Similarly, Ankara’s intention to create a safe zone along the border stretch from Jarablus to Azaz inside Syria has become completely meaningless since the Russian intervention. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s failure to develop a coherent strategy left the field open for Putin

David Ignatius writes: [After the P5+1 successful concluded the Iran nuclear deal] President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry were hopeful about working with the Russians on a “managed transition” away from a weakened President Bashar al-Assad. “I do think the window has opened a crack for us to get a political resolution in Syria, partly because both Russia and Iran, I think, recognize that the trend lines are not good for Assad,” Obama told reporters at the White House on Aug. 5.

Back then, the enthusiasts for greater Russian involvement in the Middle East included many traditional U.S. allies who also seemed eager to play the Russian card. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman traveled to Moscow; so did United Arab Emirates leader Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir met with Kerry and Lavrov in Qatar. An ominous sign of what was really ahead — a Russian-Iranian alliance to bolster Assad — came with the Moscow visit of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force. But otherwise, this looked until a week ago like a diplomatic love boat.

Obama and his allies failed to anticipate that Russian President Vladimir Putin would come armed to the negotiating table — and prepared to use his weapons to gain military leverage. Putin embodies a kind of muscular diplomacy the United States disdained over the past three years of halfhearted attempts to train and equip the Syrian opposition. Obama’s failure to develop a coherent strategy left the field open for Putin.

The speed and decisiveness of Russian action appear to have taken the administration by surprise, prompting Kerry to voice “grave concerns.” A U.S. official said the intelligence community predicted that Russia would provide indirect support to Assad, such as training and advisers, but that “direct military intervention was not considered the most likely” response.

A source close to Assad’s regime blasted what he claimed was chronic American misunderstanding of Syria. “The scandal is how amazingly incompetent American intelligence is,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Not only were U.S. officials predicting until weeks ago that the Russians could abandon Assad . . . U.S. intelligence could not even pick up on what the Russians were doing, the logistical, technical, military and manpower preparations . . . [to] execute such an unprecedented mission.” [Continue reading…]


Putin enters Syria’s quagmire

Joyce Karam writes: In September of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the pages of the New York Times to warn the United States that a potential strike against Syria “will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.” Two years later, Moscow starts out its own bombing campaign in Syria, targeting so far moderate rebels in an attempt to save the Assad regime and improve its geopolitical stature.

Russia’s political posturing aside, Syria today is no place to achieve grandiosity, or claim victories in the Middle East. It is a humanitarian disaster unseen in recent Arab history, a magnet for mercenaries from Afghanistan to Nigeria, and a breeding ground for extremism. If anything, Russia’s intervention on behalf of the Assad regime and aided by Hezbollah and IRGC, will only prolong the conflict, prompt further escalation while derailing the path to a political settlement.

The first day of Russian air strikes targeting anti-Assad moderate rebels, leaves no doubt that Putin’s entry into the Syrian war is primarily about saving Assad and not fighting ISIS. Putin is not even shy about it, telling Charlie Rose last Sunday when asked if the goal is to save Assad, “That’s right, that’s how it is…we provide assistance to legitimate Syrian authorities.” Problem is these authorities have lost all their legitimacy, and Syria can’t be saved absent of a major political compromise that neither Assad nor Russia have been willing to make.

For Russia, compromising on Assad is a sign of weakness and a redline in its negotiations with the West. Throughout the conflict and while Putin would make public statements that “we are not that preoccupied with the fate of Assad’s regime”, it is the exactly fate of Assad regime that halted the progress. Russia has rejected a timetable for Assad to leave power, and is against an overhaul of the Syrian security apparatus that it has invested in since the 1970s. [Continue reading…]


Why Putin gambled on airstrikes in Syria – and what might come next

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

For those watching closely, the signal for Russia’s first airstrikes came in a statement early on September 30 by Kremlin spokesman Sergei Ivanov, just after the upper house of the parliament authorised military operations:

To observe international law, one of two conditions has to be met – either a UN Security Council resolution or a request by a country, on the territory of which an airstrike is delivered, about military assistance.

In this respect, I want to inform you that the president of the Syrian Arab Republic has addressed the leadership of our country with a request of military assistance.

Within hours, witnesses were reporting that Russian jet fighters were bombing parts of Hama and Homs Provinces in western Syria. Activists said scores of people – almost all civilians – had been killed, disseminating videos and photographs of slain or injured children.

[Read more…]


Top NATO general: Russians starting to build air defense bubble over Syria

The Washington Post reports: While Russia’s stated goal in moving into Syria is to fight the Islamic State, NATO’s top commander believes Russia’s new presence includes the first pieces of an intricate layer of defensive systems deployed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region.

“As we see the very capable air defense [systems] beginning to show up in Syria, we’re a little worried about another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Breedlove to an audience at the German Marshall Fund Monday.

A2/AD stands for anti-access/area denial. During the early stages of warfare, A2/AD could have been a moat around a castle, or spikes dug into the ground — anything to keep the enemy off a certain swathe of territory. In the 21st century, however, A2/AD is a combination of systems such as surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles deployed to prevent forces from entering or traversing a certain area — from land, air or sea. [Continue reading…]


Russian air strikes target Assad regime’s opponents

Reuters reports: Russian air strikes in Syria are targeting a list of well-known militant organizations, not only Islamic State, the Kremlin said on Thursday, a day after the launch of its aerial campaign opened up a volatile new phase in the conflict.

Moscow had previously framed its campaign as primarily aimed at Islamic State militants, saying it feared Russian and other ex-Soviet citizens who belong to the group would shift their focus to their home countries if they were not stopped in Syria.

But on Thursday, after the United States and rebels on the ground suggested Russian strikes had so far not focused on Islamic State, it said its operation was pitched more broadly.

“These organizations (on the target list) are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, when asked if Russia and the West had different views on what constituted a terrorist group. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The start of the Russian air campaign against Syrian rebels on Wednesday unfolded in territory largely off limits to journalists, but at least some of the bombing runs appear to have been well documented on YouTube. Within hours of the first sorties, Russia’s Air Force released aerial views of some strikes, and footage recorded by militants and activists on the ground appeared to show the impact of the bombing.

Perhaps the most contested footage was uploaded by the Russian Defense Ministry and showed what officials described as evidence of three strikes “against Islamic State terrorist organization positions in Syria.”

However, an analysis of the topography shown in the video by a team of Russian bloggers who honed their craft parsing social media evidence of the war in Ukraine suggested that the strikes had taken place in a part of Syria controlled not by the Islamic State but by rival insurgent groups that oppose both Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and the Islamic State. [Continue reading…]


Five reasons why including Assad in a ‘managed transition’ will fail

Neil Quilliam writes: Yesterday President Barack Obama called for a political transition in Syria that would leave Bashar al-Assad temporarily in power. It is a proposal that seems to enjoy support among other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Though a bad policy, the move should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Syrian history. The Assads — father and son — have learned that if they dig in and wait for the tide to turn, they will not only survive, but prosper. As Bente Scheller argues, they are masters at the ‘waiting game’.

Assad’s back was firmly against the wall when he crossed US President Obama’s red line in the summer of 2013 by using chemical weapons, but then Russia stepped in to save him and embarrass the US. The subsequent advance of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 2014 handed Assad another opportunity to sidestep international opprobrium, which he used to intensify atrocities against civilians. Since the US-led anti-ISIS coalition came together and prioritized degrading and destroying that organization, Assad’s regime has, in effect, been let off the hook. This despite the Syrian regime being responsible for more civilian fatalities and injuries than ISIS — at least 110,000 according to some sources.

Although Western leaders may grit their teeth, they are now willing to allow Assad to be part of a ‘managed transition’. Their own transition to accepting Assad is the result of a combination of factors, namely the likely longevity of the civil war and its impact on the EU in terms of refugees, unerring Russian and Iranian commitment to securing the regime, and their own diplomatic shortcomings. Western powers, it seems, have no answers, haunted as they are by the ghosts of interventions past. In short, they have nothing left in their diplomatic tool bag and begrudgingly accept that Russia and Iran are better positioned to impose a settlement; one that includes Assad. [Continue reading…]


Is Putin using Syria to distract Russians from hardships at home?

Alan Philps writes: In Moscow, enormous efforts are in hand to raise spirits. During the balmy evenings, spectacular sound and light shows are projected on to such monuments as the Bolshoi Theatre and St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, all with a strongly patriotic soundtrack.

With people enjoying the last of the warmth before the onset of winter, it is hard to detect a sense of impending doom. But the storm clouds are gathering. With inflation at 16 per cent, the oil price low and Russia unable to borrow from western financial markets, the only real prospect is gradual impoverishment of the poor and middle classes. The super rich can move their wealth abroad and speak confidently of Russia’s “resilience”, which they say is always underestimated by the West.

So far the grim economic prospects have been cushioned by the undeniable popularity of the annexation of Crimea, territory that most Russians believe is a historic part of the Motherland and came under Ukrainian rule by accident. For the past year, the mood has been: there may be no cheese – or even worse, there may be cheese made with palm oil – “but at least Crimea is ours”. Television, a powerful tool of state propaganda, has pumped out the story of American and European connivance with Hitler-loving Ukrainian “fascists” to threaten Russia.

But Mr Putin’s Ukrainian adventure is stuck. The separatists he has supported in the east of the country are a rough and unruly bunch, and incapable of uniting the local population. As he tries to focus attention away from Ukraine, he has found a new enemy and new adventure in Syria. [Continue reading…]

The Daily Beast reports: Until recently, one-third Russians said they had no interest at all in Syria. Just 18 percent welcomed the idea of providing military support to Bashar al-Assad, according to a national survey this month by Levada Center pollsters.

Public opinion did not seem a significant factor in Vladimir Putin’s decision-making Wednesday: No sooner had the Russian president returned from his meetings and speech at the United Nations in New York then he asked the Russian senate to allow him to use the country’s military for foreign combat missions.

Yet not many understood the purpose and targets. “Here is what’s going on,” Aleksei Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow radio, told listeners while broadcasting from New York. “There are two countries where ISIS is fighting. They cross two borders in Iraq and in Syria. Putin told us straight away, at the United Nations, about Iraq—that Iraqi authorities asked for its participation in the coalition because ISIS comes and goes from Iraq and back to Iraq, so the planes would fly to the Iraqi border. That is why the foreign countries are not specified.”

While senators voted in favor of the president’s decision, Echo of Moscow listeners had their own vote online. The vast majority—81 percent—did not approve of Russian military participation in Syria’s civil war. [Continue reading…]


Bombing Syria


Russia’s first reported air strikes in Syria assist regime by targeting broader opposition

Institute for the Study of War reports: Syrian Civil Defense Forces reported 33 civilian casualties from the Russian airstrike in Talbisah in northern Homs. According to local sources, these Russian airstrikes have expanded into the provinces of Hama and Latakia, as well as other rebel-held areas in the northern countryside of Homs. These airstrikes continue to target areas held by Syrian rebels, including Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, Western-backed TOW anti-tank missile recipients, and a number of other local rebel groups. Notably, the nearest positions held by ISIS are over 55 km from the areas targeted by the Russian airstrikes. No Russian airstrikes have yet been reported against ISIS’s positions in Syria.

Russia’s foreign ministry accused international media of conducting information warfare by reporting civilian casualties from Russian airstrikes in Syria. As Russian involvement in Syria continues to expand, Russian disinformation will come in direct conflict with the situation reported by ground forces inside Syria. In this instance, despite claims by Syrian sources that Russian airstrikes are exclusively targeting Jabhat al-Nusra and rebel locations, Russian officials claim that the airstrikes are only targeting ISIS in Syria.

After a vote in Russia’s upper house of parliament unanimously authorized President Vladimir Putin to conduct military operations in Syria, the head of President Putin’s administration stated that the military objective of the operation was “exclusively” to provide air support to the Syrian government forces in combatting ISIS. [Continue reading…]

Fox News reports: According to a U.S. senior official, Presidents Obama and Putin agreed on a process to “deconflict” military operations. The Russians on Wednesday “bypassed that process,” the official said.

“That’s not how responsible nations do business,” the official said.

The development came after Pentagon officials, in a development first reported by Fox News, brushed aside an official request, or “demarche,” from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria, where Moscow said it intended to conduct airstrikes against ISIS on behalf of Assad, according to sources who spoke to Fox News. The request was made in a heated discussion between a Russian three-star general and U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad, sources said.

“If you have forces in the area we request they leave,” said the general, who used the word “please” in the contentious encounter.

A senior Pentagon official said the U.S., which also has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS, but does not support Assad, said the request was not honored.

“We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today,” the official said. “We did not and have not changed our operations.” [Continue reading…]