Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to intervene militarily in Syria and he doesn’t care what the US thinks about it.
That the gist of a report submitted by experts at the Congressional Research Service to Congress. They surmise that Putin has reached the conclusion that President Assad and his Iranian allies are incapable of defeating the rebels and Islamic State, and may, in fact, be losing ground.
“Russia’s recent activity in Syria also may be motivated by an assessment that the Syrian military forces are becoming less capable and that Iranian support may be inadequate to preserve the Assad regime,” said the report. “Moscow’s primary intentions may include safeguarding the Assad regime, preserving Russian naval access to Syria, and challenging U.S. policy toward Syria.”
The report added: “Putin’s recent call for an all-out effort against the Islamic State also may stem from the sizable number of jihadist fighters from the North Caucasus fighting in Syria, who may pose a serious problem for Moscow should they return to Russia.”
US policy in Syria is, for all practical purposes, dead in the water, with pitifully small number of bombing missions against Islamic State targets and pitifully few US trained rebels. Putin sees the vacuum and has rushed to fill it, building a huge airbase and shipping tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and now, apparently troops, to confront both the rebels and ISIS.
If Mr. Putin does view the war against the Islamic State as stagnant, he has an ally in Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Dempsey told reporters this month that the war is “tactically stalemated.”
Russia’s military commitment to Syria sent the Obama administration scrabbling to adjust a policy battered by both Democrats and Republicans. The administration’s plan to put ground troops in Syria in the form of moderate rebels has basically failed. Fewer than a half-dozen fighters remain in the country after a number of their colleagues were killed.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Friday that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spoke by phone with his counterpart, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, to ensure that each side understands the other’s intentions in Syria. The call effectively unfroze contact between the two militaries.
Putin is so contemptuous of US power in Syria that he didn’t even feel the need to inform us of his plans to intervene. There are going to be Russian fighter jets aloft at the same time as US bombers and fighters — a situation ripe for misunderstanding. Thankfully, there are so few US trained rebels on the ground in Syria that even if they wanted to fight them, the Russians probably couldn’t find them.
Russian intervention means that the prospects of a political solution removing President Assad from power have dimmed:
Russia has a long history of supporting the Assad family dynasty, which granted it a naval base and gives Moscow an avenue for significant influence in the Middle East and a way to maintain economic and military ties with Iran.
Why Russia would commit troops to prop up Mr. Assad and then agree to his removal is unclear.
“If Russian officials continue to reject the premise of Assad’s ouster as a precondition for a transition or counterterrorism cooperation, U.S. officials may confront a more lasting proxy conflict scenario,” the Congressional Research Service report said.
No one will sit in Assad’s chair unless they support the Russians 100%. Putin’s intervention assures that. As for President Obama, it’s back to the drawing board to try and come up with a policy — the third in 4 years if you’re keeping track — that will degrade Islamic State forces and work to end the civil war that is fueling the greatest migration of people since World War II.