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Friday, November 6, 2015

Russia steps up air campaign in Syria, increasing sorties against ISIS, but continues to target anti-Assad forces.

Link: Russian forces on-the-ground in Syria increase to over 4000.

In response to ISIS advances in the vicinity of Aleppo City, Russian bombing raids against Islamic State targets have increased.  On November 2 and 3, Russian warplanes attacked ISIS positions near Palmyra and Qaraytan in eastern Homs, as well as in ar-Raqqah City.  Russia claims to be working with Syrian opposition in its targeting of ISIS units.  In reality, Russia has coordinated some of its bombing sorties with Syrian opposition that is the least "at odds" with the Assad regime.  Russia claimed to have coordinated with Syrian opposition when utilizing precision weapons to attack ISIS targets near Palmyra and Deir ez-Zour, in an effort to pressure the United States to recognize and support the more "moderate" Syrian opposition.  As Russia negotiates with Jordan and Israel regarding the make-up of a post-ISIS Syrian government, Putin wants to isolate the more determined and uncompromising of the Syrian opposition groups.  A number of the organizations that Russia considers more moderate have only evolved in the more recent stages of the conflict, which will provide a problem for some of the groups who were present in the beginning of the movement to topple Bashar al-Assad.  Its easy for some to forget that this conflict began as an offshoot of the Arab Spring, and was a ground-roots, indigenous effort to remove Assad.  ISIS took advantage of the breakdown in authority and civil control to expand its base and create a three-dimensional battleground in Syria.  In reality, the foreign elements involved in Syria should be exclusively focused on the defeat of ISIS, which is in itself, foreign to Syria.  When attempting to create an anti-ISIS ground force in Syria utilizing mostly former Assad regime officers, great efforts were made to avoid contact with regime forces.  Russia does not accept the obligation to avoid internal Syrian problems.  In fact, Russia has used the excuse of opposing ISIS as a shield to conduct one bombing raid after another against Syrian opposition.  Recent Russian focus on ISIS targets have been in response to ISIS advances near Aleppo City and international criticism of its up-to-now almost exclusive targeting of Assad's Syrian opposition, vice ISIS positions.

The United States and Russia have made some progress in deconflicting military operations in Syria;  a successful short-range communications test with a U.S. fighter was conducted on November 3.  But Russia seems determined to continue with its strategy to build Iran into a dominant regional power, and to counter U.S. efforts at strengthening its military cooperation with its eastern European allies.  This week Russia deconflicted a contract with Iran for S-300 anti-aircraft systems.  This agreement had been stalled for some time as Iran focused on developments in Iraq and nuclear treaty negotiations with Europe and the United States.  In a typically heavy-handed attempt at intimidation, Russia launched one of its largest missile tests of the year on the day of the meeting in Vienna to discuss the Syrian conflict.  Russia is also suspected of supporting the action taken by the Moldovan Parliament on October 29 to remove the current government.  As NATO stepped up efforts to strengthen its ties in eastern Europe, Russia launched a snap aviation drill in Kaliningrad.  Russia has a habit of occupying its opponents with diplomacy and other distractions, while continuing whatever action has caused disagreement.  Expect Russia to continue its efforts to prop up Assad and to build Iran into an international player.  Iran has a very important role to play in Vladimir Putin's larger plan to propel Russia into the role of sole world superpower.    

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