środa, 9 września 2015

Does Russia really want to fight against the so-called Islamic State in Syria?

More and more reports confirm growing presence of Russian military forces in Syria. Soldiers, equipment and even fighter jets are being moved to Syrian province Latakia. However, until now, Kremlin denies to have any plans for use of its troops to support Bashar al-Assad. Reality proves something completely different - Russians are already fighting on the ground (see the report here). The question arises: what is the Moscow's action plan for Syria?

Since the beginning of the conflict Russia actively supports the Syrian regime by providing funds, military hardware, advisors, instructors and logistic personnel. Still Assad forces have been unable to withstand rebel forces and on March lost Idlib, what was nothing else as the biggest blow to Bashar's supporters in two years. For Kremlin it was a really bad information. The regime seemed to tremble under rebels pressure endangering Russian interests in the Middle East (Syria is a key ally of Moscow in the region. The fall of Assad will mean Russia's withdrawal from the Middle East).

Media presented revelations on Russian troops in Syria in the context of fight against IS. Unfortunately Russia doesn't have reason to fight against al-Baghdadi followers as this is not the faction, which pose the most serious threat to Assad. It was nothing more than misinterpretation of the situation or Russian propaganda trick to conceal the real agenda of Moscow.

In fact Russian troops have been deployed mainly to coastal province Latakia. Firstly, to protect Russia's naval base in Tartus. Secondary, to step up training efforts of pro-regime forces. Lastly, to secure Latakia against rebels (Russians are building now a military airfield in the province) and, if needed, to defend it for Assad (it may be a hint of what solution - partition of the country - is currently on the table to end war in Syria). IS currently doesn't conduct military operation to conquer Latakia, but Nusra Front and other, less radical rebel groups do (see the map).

What's more Kremlin treats the rise of IS as an opportunity. Domestically it exploited the outflow of potential recruits for Northern Caucasus Islamic insurgency to Syria (actually some reports indicate that FSB encouraged Dagestan's salafists to join IS abroad) and as a result almost crushed (or crushed) the so-called Caucasus Emirate. In global context, and contrary to what I have just written few lines above, Russia might not see a quick end of war in Syria as the most suitable solution. The conflict draws resources from USA and its allies engaged in the operation against IS. Additionally, what Kremlin didn't manage to achieve by its diplomatic offensive and media propaganda after the annexation of Crimea, Syrian war did. The biggest influx of refugees to EU since World War Two successfully divided Europe and undermined European solidarity.

After coming to power, Putin, forged a strategy to strengthen Russia position in the Old Continent. The main point of it was to deal with EU not as entity, but by making business with single, leading countries (Germany, France, Italy) behind the back of others. Putin is now closer to achieve his goal than ever before. And he is a talented player. He used Islamic insurgency in Chechnya to cement his rules in Russia and to lay foundations for the future Russian autocratic state. Now Putin wants Islamists from IS to help him win Europe.

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