Russian Military Operation In Syria Focuses On Bringing Peace, Security Back To Region – OpEd
By Penza News
Over the first 7 days of the military operation in Syria that started on September 30, 2015, after request for help from President Bashar Assad, Russian Air Force dealt more damage to the Islamic State terrorist group than the United States did over the past year, report German journalists as the operation marks its first week in progress.
According to foreign media, the US Air Force completed some 57,000 sorties against 7,000 targets between June 2014 and September 2015. Nevertheless, they failed to push back the encroaching Islamic State attackers, with many civilian casualties on the way.
During the Russian operation, more than 120 sorties resulted in destruction of over 100 units of military equipment and over 50 targets, including two communications centers, four factories producing arms and explosives, 17 headquarters and command points, 23 fuel and ammunition storage facilities, a terrorist training center, and several field and recruitment camps.
Reportedly, the recent attacks also heavily demoralized radical Islamists, with over 600 terrorists deserting from Islamic State.
Based on information provided by Russian Ministry of Defense, the mixed Russian Air Force group stationed at Hmeymim airbase 25 km outside Latakia is comprised of over 50 planes and helicopters armed with high-explosive, bunker-busting and glide bombs, as well as high-precision smart missiles. The Russian naval ships of the Caspian flotilla also assisted in the attacks against the terrorists: at night into October 7, they released a salvo of 26 long-range ballistic missiles that struck down 11 objectives controlled by terrorists in Syria.
The Russian operation is coordinated from the dedicated intelligence center in Baghdad that collects, analyzes, consolidates and rapidly distributes tactical information between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia to facilitate their operations against IS. In addition, Moscow has called for other countries to support the fight against terrorists by joining the operation or providing intelligence on present locations of Islamic State fighters.
However, the past week was also marked by an intensified aggressive media campaign against Russia, as several foreign media were publishing reports on alleged civilian casualties and rumors of a Russian ground force intervention in the making, using dubious “anonymous sources” to further their claims.
So far, international reaction to the Russian military operation in Syria has been mixed. On October 2, the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey appealed for Russia to stop its bombing operation, while Ankara shortly afterwards accused Russia of violating its airspace twice. However, several world leaders changed their stance further into the operation: the US President Barack Obama wished Russia luck in the operation, yet added he will not accept showing support to Bashar Assad, while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated the need to involve the President of Syria in the discussion on fighting Islamic State after the four-party talks over the Ukrainian conflict. Moreover, representatives of Kyrgyzstan and Egypt, as well as the head of France’s Front National Marine Le Pen, expressed their support of the Russian course of actions.
Jiri Mastalka, European Parliament deputy (GUE/NGL) for the Czech Republic, member of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, said there are several significant points of differences between Russian and American anti-IS strategy, reminding that the US-founded coalition did not achieve any significant success overall since more than a year ago while Russia has a reasonable chance for success.
“Although it is possible to presume that some of Islamic State’s activities could have been slowed down, its fighters retained some very important territories in Syria as well as in Iraq: big cities like several-million-strong Mosul; oil fields; strategic routes. Still, until now the attempts to cut off propaganda activities, penetration into other territories or establishment of their international contacts have been unsuccessful,” the politician told “PenzaNews” agency.
He also suggested that Russia’s move to begin the air force operation in Syria was a forced defensive measure, while saving Bashar Assad’s regime is not the highest-priority objective.
“There are about 2,400 citizens of Russian Federation within the ranks of Islamic State. If you add the fighters from the Central Asia, approximately 5,000 people from the countries of former Soviet Union are fighting on the side of Islamic State. It is very likely, almost sure, that any other successes of the Islamic State would be followed by the invasion of the terrorist organization into Russia as well as the Central Asia. Come to that, the successes of Taliban during last two weeks in Afghanistan also means this organization is approaching the borders of Tajikistan or China,” the politician added.
He said he believes Moscow has better chances for victory compared to the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, in no smaller part thanks to streamlined exchange of strategic information with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
“Primarily, the alternative is the fact that only Russian jets operate in Syria in accordance with the international law. It means they were invited by the legitimate government in Damascus. The Western coalition is bombing with no agreement, on the base of its own arrogant power,” Jiri Mastalka emphasized.
According to him, the Kurds and the Iraqi army, along with possible support from Iran and Lebanon, could potentially reinforce the Russian air operation soon.
“Just this alliance could bring the sought-after victory over Islamic State, leading to the reforms on the grounds of Assad’s regime with the moderate opposition, and towards the launch of reconstructing Syria. Because of this, the flow of refugees from this region to Europe should stop,” the politician concluded.
Meanwhile, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings University and author of several publications for National Interest magazine, suggested there might be no major shift in the regional situation in the nearest future.
“The most likely near-term outcome is continued stalemate, with some limited progress led by the US and Kurds and some limited progress for Assad near Latakia and Idlib aided by Russia,” he suggested, pointing out that the US military did not achieve any significant success against Islamic State.
“In Iraq, working with regional partners as well as Shia militias, at least we prevented the fall of more cities. The same thing was true of Kobani [Ayn al-Arab] in Syria. But we have not rolled IS back in general,” the expert stated.
He also said he was concerned over Russia showing support to Bashar Assad, who had been accused by the West of illegitimacy and crimes against his own people. However, Michael O’Hanlon added that Russian and American aims over their fight with terrorists could be reconciled.
In turn, Stefan Meister, head of the program on Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia at the Robert Bosch center of the German Council on Foreign Affairs, believes that neither Washington nor Moscow have a serious strategy to fight IS.
From his point of view, the completely opposite views in Russia and the US on the civil war and Syria and the ways out led to a proxy conflict in the region as Moscow and Washington keep supporting different sides in their struggle against each other.
Discussing the possible future of the situation, the expert expressed his opinion that Syria will be unable to return to its original borders as it already broke down as a state.
He also suggested that Russian airstrikes might lead to Islamic State growing in numbers after merging with demoralized weaker armed groups.
At the same time, Stefan Meister noted that the US and its allies achieved poor results over the past year of their fight against the terrorists.
“In a very difficult environment and a very sensible area, the first steps achieved to create a coalition with states in the region, with groups in the region, but also with Western allies. I think that is the result we have at the moment. But how efficient is it is another question. At the moment, I think, not very efficient – not really a big breakthrough with regard to IS. […] They all had to learn that this problem is much more complicated than they expected in the beginning,” he said.
At the same time, Vasily Kuznetsov, director of the Political Systems and Cultures Transformation Issue Center at the World History faculty of the Moscow State University research fellow at the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies, expert of the Russian Council on International Affairs, thinks that the airstrikes by the US coalition had yielded poor results due to the lack of ground support.
“That is exactly why the Russian authorities talk great success: Russia is fighting IS on an invitation from Bashar Assad and cooperates with the Syrian army,” he pointed out.
Vasily Kuznetsov also stressed the fact that Washington did not see the whole scope of danger Islamic State poses, while Moscow saw the terrorist organization as a real threat right from the get go.
“This is a very key moment. Russia is not fighting just Islamic State but all other Jihadist armed groups in Syria. […] It is obvious that if [the terrorists win] we would have a Jihadist state bordering the sea appear. That would be a new world,” the expert said, noting that Russia took a timely decision and its success would facilitate restoring relations with Moscow’s international partners.
Discussing the risks, he suggested that Moscow in the worst case would encounter opposition by the world’s Sunni population, a sharp increase in terrorist activity within the country, and negative public reaction to losses in Syria if any of them do occur.
Moreover, Vasily Kuznetsov pointed out that the accusations against Russia over bombing the Syrian opposition are largely unfounded.
“After all, Russia will be trying to use this moderate opposition to get it involved in the political process,” the expert explained.
According to him, a complete victory over IS under the current layout is impossible.
“This fight will cause Islamic State to be pushed out into Iraq. So we will need to either expand the operation or increase the role of other actors in the fight against IS,” Vasily Kuznetsov said.
Kamal Sido, head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), expressed a somewhat similar notion.
“[The US] led a one-sided struggle in Syria. Before doing that, they should have coordinated their activities from all sides – on the ground, with other regional and international actors. Of course, the Kurds and other nationalities, ethnic and religious minorities welcome fighting Islamic State, including by Russia, but Moscow alone is unable to resolve this issue,” said the human rights activist.
“Our criticism to America – there needed to be more pressure on Turkey to stop its help to Islamic terrorists – not only Islamic State but Al-Nusra and other armed groups that pursue the Kurds, the Christians, the Assyrians, other nationalities in Syria. […] Our criticism to Russia – they must persuade Bashar Assad to go. He has been a head of state for a long time: hundreds of thousands of people had been murdered in his name,” the expert added.
He urged American and Russian leaders to join forces with the peoples of Syria to prevent religion-fueled aggression and transform the country into a law-abiding democratic de-centralized state.
“I would like to see all countries, including Russia and the United States, work together towards de-escalation [in the conflict], as the state’s population is emaciated. We know many people had gathered by the borders – no water, no food. The Syrian people need help, not war,” Kamal Sido stressed.
In the meantime, John Laughland, Director of Studies at the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in France, suggested that Russia’s decision to answer to request for help from Damascus was motivated by the lack of efficiency demonstrated by American military strategy, as the US coalition has failed to bring closer the victory over radical Islamists.
“Absolutely no results at all, or at least no positive results. The Americans have been bombing the Islamic State for a year now, and, as we know, the Islamic State has continued to conquer territory during that period. The American bombing campaign has been a complete and demonstrable failure, as has, incidentally, the so-called ‘training’ of moderate rebels,” the political analyst said.
“On its own, air cover is completely useless: there is no point bombing a country without an army on the ground. Of course, if you are attacking another state, than there might be some targets like bridges that one could reasonably bomb without having an army on the ground. But the Islamic State is obviously a state only in name: it is effectively a paramilitary organization, and bombing a paramilitary organization is worse than useless,” he added.
Moreover, Russia is seeking to avoid a situation where Syria undergoes the same destructive revolution experienced by Libya and Iraq, John Laughland pointed out.
“[Russian] President Vladimir Putin made it very clear in his speech to the United Nations. He said that he considered it to be a grave mistake to try to get rid of the existing Syrian government, to get rid of Assad,” the expert said.
The results of Russian military and political strategy in Syria will become fully apparent in the coming weeks and months, he stressed.