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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Russia steps up aid to Syria's Assad.

Links: A.  Russia providing military aid to Syrian regime forces.
           B.  Russia delivers military aid to Syria's Assad.

Last Spring, when ISIS started to become a household word in Europe and the United States, the Obama Administration made clear its feelings by announcing the formation of the Allied Air Coalition.  This coalition, which included warplanes from Kuwait, U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Kingdom, allows European nations and the United States the opportunity to militarily strike against ISIS, without risking the lives of one soldier.  Russia chose not to be a coalition member, probably because it would have impacted in some way Russia's close relationship with de facto Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  How did Syria and Russia become so close?  Decades ago, when Israel was being threatened by its neighbors with the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War, the United States aggressively supported Israel, both diplomatically and with military aid.  At the time, Russia was still the biggest part of the Soviet Union, and played the part of America's foil on the Cold War game board.  When the Arab states would begin to plan attacks on Israel, the Russians were always nearby with T-54/55 and T-62 tanks, Artillery, and Mig warplanes.  I always assumed that the Russians supported the enemies of Israel solely because the United States supported Israel so strongly.  I'm sure the issue is a bit more complicated, but the close relationship between Damascus and Moscow survived the death of the Soviet Union (1991) and of Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez (2000).  In earlier posts we commented on Vladimir Putin's often stated goal of having a port on the Mediterranean Sea for the Russian Navy.  Long before ISIS appeared on the scene, the idea of Russia building a naval port on the Syrian coast near Latakia or Tartus was something considered by NATO intelligence experts and the Pentagon.  Over the years, the Russians certainly built up enough good will.  The issue probably didn't become a serious topic for the Russians until Putin took office.  Given the invasion of Crimea and the support for separatists in Ukraine, he obviously pictures Russia as a nation with expanding national boundaries.  Giving the Russian navy (and submarines in particular) a base from which to repair, refuel, rearm, etc. on the Mediterranean Sea would be a coup for Putin.

Most of the summer, when the media provided the world with daily stories from Syria of regime defeats, Putin seemed to be purposely keeping a low profile.  Granted, the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, not to mention the destruction of a civilian airliner by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile, must have kept Putin quite busy.  We began to wonder if maybe Assad's plight had become so precarious that even the Russians had jumped ship.  I was half-expecting to see loads of family members boarding flights to exile in Russia, with their suitcases filled with money and antiquities.  But no such luck.  Assad has shown a willingness to see this thing through.  I think Gadhafi expressed the same willingness, though, and look where it got him.  Basically, Assad's regime forces are limited to defending everything west of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range.  Two-thirds of Syria are presently occupied by either ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) and its allies (give a few towns in the north to the Kurds, who as always, have fought with tremendous courage and determination).  Putin may have arrived just in the nick of time, as JN has been expanding its attacks in the northwestern province of Hama, and onto the strategic al-Ghab plain.  The Alawites of northwest Syria, always so loyal to the Assad's, are coming under great pressure from JN, and they are making their feelings known in Damascus. 

Last week saw the arrival of  Russian T-90 tanks to Latakia (the number of tanks is still being debated), and enough living pods for 1,500 persons.  One can assume that the Russians will also be sending in intelligence officers and humanitarian aid personnel, so it can't be assumed that all 1,500 are earmarked for use by soldiers.  Russia has also delivered artillery and loads of smaller arms, ammunition, and military equipment.  Putin obviously believes that Assad can yet win the day.  That cannot be accomplished with the military forces at Assad's disposal today.  For ISIS to be defeated, the Russians either have to join a coalition with Europe and the United States to destroy ISIS for good, or move in enough Russian forces to combine with the remaining regime units, and finish off ISIS on the battlefield.  ISIS is strong, but ISIS cannot defeat the Russian Army.  In fact, ISIS would be hard-pressed to last more than a month against the military of France, the UK, Germany, Israel, China, even Iran.  Putin doesn't scare easily, and he doesn't blink very often either.  We believe he still has intentions for building a Russian Naval Base in Syria, and in order to accomplish this, he must keep his puppet as head of state.  If the Russians lead a military offensive that sends ISIS packing, and Assad is hailed as a hero, how will Erdogan in Turkey take the news?  Many of Syria's neighbors are anxious to see Assad deposed, but not at the risk of creating the ISIS Caliphate.  What would be in the best interest of all, is if a western leader would emerge, who would lead a military coalition including the United States and Europe, and destroy ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.  Where can we find such a leader?  Lets hope one shows up soon, because ISIS is only getting stronger.

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