Russia and Syria: The Die Is Cast
• September 3, 2015
• 1,500 Words
Despite doubts and denials, Russia is about to embark on an
ambitious expansion of its Syrian presence, likely to change the
game in the war-torn country. Russia’s small and dated naval
repair facility in Tartous will be enlarged, while Jableh near
Latakia (Laodicea of old) will become the Russian Air Force base
and a full-blown Russian Navy base in the Eastern Mediterranean,
beyond the narrow Bosphorus straits. The jihadi multitudes
besetting Damascus are likely to be beaten into obedience and
compliance, and the government of President Assad relieved from
danger and siege. The war with Da’esh (ISIS) is to provide the
cover for this operation. This is the first report of this
fateful development, based on confidential and usually reliable
Russian sources in Moscow.
The knowledgeable and Damascus-based French investigative
journalist and dissident
Thierry Meyssan noted the arrival of many Russian advisers.
Russians began to share satellite imagery in real time with
their Syrian allies, he added. An
Israeli news site said “Russia has begun its military
intervention in Syria” and predicted that “in the coming weeks
thousands of Russian military personnel are set to touch down in
Syria”. Russians promptly
President Bashar al Assad
hinted at that a few days ago expressing his full confidence
of Russian support for Damascus. First six MiG-31 fighter jets
landed in Damascus a couple of weeks ago, as reported in the
official RG newspaper.
Michael Weiss in the far-right Daily Beast presented
a flesh-creeping picture of a Russian penetration of Syria.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper referred to Jableh as the
Now we can confirm that to the best of our knowledge, despite
denials (remember Crimea?) Russia has cast its lot and made a
very important decision to enter the Syrian war. This decision
may yet save Syria from total collapse and incidentally save
Europe, too, from being swept by refugee waves. The Russian air
force will ostensibly fight Da’esh, but probably (as Michael
Weiss guessed) they will also bomb not just Da’esh but the
US-allied opposition of al-Nusra (formerly al-Qaeda) and other
non-Da’esh Islamic extremists for the simple reason that they
can’t be distinguished from Da’esh.
The Russian Foreign Minister Mr Sergey Lavrov proposed to
organise a new coalition against Da’esh including Assad’s army,
Saudis and some opposition forces. The US envoy visiting Russia
said that there is no chance that the Saudis or other Gulf
states would agree to join forces with Bashar Assad. Russia
still plans to build this coalition, but in the view of the
American rejection, apparently President Putin decided to act.
Russia is worried by successes of Da’esh, as this force fights
and displaces Christians in Syria, while Russia considers itself
a traditional protector of these people. Russia is also worried
that Da’esh may begin operations in Muslim areas of Russia, in
the Caucasus and on the Volga River. And the US-led anti-Da’esh
coalition didn’t do the trick.
The US and Turkey ostensibly fight Da’esh, but they have their
own interests, quite different from those of Syrians, Europeans
and Russians. Turkey fights the Kurds who are staunch opponents
of Da’esh. The US uses the war with Da’esh as a smokescreen to
fight the legitimate government of Bashar Assad who was recently
re-elected by vast majority of the Syrians. Da’esh does not
suffer much from the US raids, as opposed to the Syrian Army.
Moreover, the US sent hundreds of trained terrorists to Syria
after providing them with a military upgrade in Jordan and
elsewhere. Recently David Petraeus called for the arming of
Jabhat an Nusra so they would fight Da’esh. This silly idea
was laughed out of court but it is far from dead.
The US and its allies have wreaked havoc in Syria. The US is far
away and can enjoy the show. Europe is a loser once removed as
it gets the flood of refugees. Turkey is a direct loser, as it
gets refugees, terrorism, the rapid decline of President
Erdogan’s popularity, and a drop of living standards, all this
being due to its erroneous policies in Syria.
Now Russia has taken over the difficult task of saving the
situation. If Erdogan, Obama, Kerry, and the Saudis had thought
that Putin would drop Assad, now they are having a rude
awakening from such delusions. The Russian position is rather
nuanced. Russia will not fight for Assad, as it did not fight
for [the Ukrainian President] Yanukovych. Russia thinks it is up
to Syrians to decide who will be their president. Assad or
somebody else – that’s an internal Syrian affair. On the other
hand, Obama and his allies do fight against Assad. He had “lost
his legitimacy”, they say. They have a problem with Assad, as
they admit. Russia has no problems with Assad. As long as he is
popular with his people, let him rule, Russians say. If some
members of the opposition will join him, fine.
Russia does not intend to fight the armed opposition per se, as
long as this opposition is ready for peaceful negotiations and
does not demand impossible (say, Assad’s head). In real life,
nobody can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate
groups and Da’esh. All of them are likely to suffer when the
Russians will begin to do the job seriously. They’d better
negotiate with the government and come for some arrangement. The
alternative (destruction of Syria, millions of refugees,
uprooting of Middle Eastern Christendom, jihadi attack on Russia
proper) is too horrible to contemplate.
The War in Syria is fraught with dangers for Russia; that’s why
Putin steered clear of direct involvement since 2011. The
adversary is well armed, has some support on the ground, it has
the wealth of the Gulf states and fanatic warriors likely to
unleash a wave of terror attacks in Russia. The US position is
ambiguous: Obama and his staff does not react on the growing
Russian involvement. Thierry Meyssan thinks that Obama and Putin
came to agreement regarding the need to defeat Da’esh. In his
view, some American officials and generals (Petraeus, Allen)
would like to undermine this agreement; so do the Republicans
and the Neo-Cons.
Some Russian officials are worried. Perhaps Obama keeps mum in
order to lure Putin into the Syrian War. Remember, the US
enticed Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. Russian and American
planes in the air over Syria could come to hostile encounters.
Others say: shouldn’t Russia get involved in the Ukraine, rather
than in Syria? But the apparent decision of Putin to enter war
in Syria makes sense.
A war far away from home presents logistic challenges, as the US
experienced in Vietnam and Afghanistan, but there is much less
danger of war spilling into Russia proper. In the distant
theatre of war, Russian army, navy and air force will be able to
show their pluck.
If they will succeed, Syria will regain peace, refugees will
return to their homes, while Russia will remain forever in the
Eastern Mediterranean. Russian success will cool the warmongers
in Washington, Kiev, Brussels. However, if they will fail, NATO
will think that Russia is ripe for reaping and may try to move
war close to home.
We can compare it with military campaigns on 1930s. The Russians
under brilliant Marshal Zhukov soundly trashed the Japanese at
Khalkhyn Gol in 1939, and the Japanese signed Neutrality pact
with Russians and refrained from attacking Russia during the
Soviet-German war. But the Red Army managed poorly against
Marshal Mannerheim in Finland in 1940, and this encouraged
Hitler to begin the war.
This time Russia will act within the international law
framework, as opposed to Saddam Hussein’s adventure in Kuwait.
While the US and Turkey bomb and strafe Syria without as much as
‘by your leave’ from the legitimate government of the state,
Russia is coming by permission and by invitation of the Syrian
authorities as their ally. There is a Mutual Defence Treaty
between Russia and Syria. Syrian government offered Russians its
facilities, airports and harbours for the defence purposes.
The Christian Churches of the Middle East welcome Russia and ask
for its assistance in the face of the jihadi onslaught. The
ancient Orthodox Church of Antioch and the Orthodox Church of
Jerusalem welcomed Russian involvement. The most high-ranking
and politically active Palestinian clergyman, Archbishop
Theodosius Atallah Hanna expressed his hope the Russians will
bring peace to Syria and the refugees will return home.
For the Europeans, this is the chance to wean themselves from
blind support of the US policies, to return millions of refugees
home from European railway stations and hostels.
If it will work, this Putin’s initiative in Syria will count
with his greatest achievements. He is playing his hand keeping
cards very close to his chest, and this report is the first
emanating from his vicinity.
Israel Shamir reports from Moscow and can be reached at
This report was first published in the