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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Putin ushers in a new era of geopolitics in the Middle East.

Putin ushers in a new era of geopolitics in the Middle East. HT: UnderstandingWar.

One thing is clear: if the Kremlin had set out to design a 2015 exercise season to hone the most important skills its troops would need to conduct air support of Syrian troops with a very limited high-impact ground footprint, they could hardly have done better.

It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that the coming days will see Russian Su-25 Frogfoots, Hind helicopters, Su-24 Fencers, and Su-30 Flankers beginning to conduct air operations against rebel targets on behalf of the Syrian regime.

It would not be surprising if small groups of Spetsnaz or airborne troops began conducting targeted raids against high-value rebel targets as well. The Russians appear to have prepared their forces for these kinds of missions.

Putin is not simply intervening to attack ISIS. His stated goal and posture is to support the Assad regime and Bashar al Assad in particular. The deployment of Russian forces into Syria therefore effectively guarantees that Assad can remain in power for as long as Putin chooses to back him, thus obviating the need for Assad to make any meaningful concessions to the opposition.

Assad’s forces had been reeling from the advances of multiple rebel groups and running out of reinforcements. His regime might have faced collapse, he might have been pushed aside, or he might have felt compelled to negotiate seriously with his Syrian opponents. Now he is likely to become extremely intransigent.

The only path to ending the war thus offered by this Russian adventure is the crushing of the majority Sunni Arab population in Syria by the combined forces of Assad, Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and the Kremlin. It is hard to see that approach being successful.

Any serious plan for bringing peace, ultimately, to Syria requires separating supporters of ISIS and al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra from the bulk of the Syrian Sunni Arab population now working with them for lack of any better alternatives. That approach requires differentiating among the various groups fighting against Assad, identifying which ones might be lured away, and determining what would be required to lure them.

Putin, it seems clear, has no interest whatsoever in such an approach. He told U.S. networks that “provision of military support to illegal structures runs counter to the principles of modern international law and the United Nations Charter,” and made it clear that he regards the only “legitimate government entities” in Syria to be the organs of Assad’s government.

It is likely, therefore, that Russian support for Assad will take the form of an indiscriminate attack against Assad’s opponents, regardless of the degree of their affiliation with ISIS or JN. Such an effort will tend to unify the Syrian opposition with the jihadists against the Russians and Assad.

If the U.S. appears to support Russia—a position the Obama Administration seems to be steadily drifting toward—it will solidify the idea that all of the Western powers are united with Iran behind Assad and that only al Qaeda and ISIS offer international support for the struggle against the ‘Alawite government.

A blank-check support for the Assad regime of the sort Putin is ready to provide, in other words, is very likely to backfire, further radicalizing the conflict and permitting the continued commitment of war crimes by the Assad regime.

The path of least resistance for the U.S. will be gradually coming to terms with the new reality and making a virtue of necessity by cooperating, reluctantly at first and then more enthusiastically, with the RussianIranian-Syrian axis that is now forming.

It will, in other words, continue the trend of realigning the American geostrategic position the Middle East fundamentally. More remarkably, it may represent the opening of a new Russian flank against NATO and against America’s ability to operate in the region. Read the full story here.

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