If you’ve followed the incessant back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow over the course of the proxy wars raging in Ukraine and Syria, you know that the Kremlin is without equal when it comes to describing US foreign policy in a way that is both succinct and accurate.
This was on full display earlier this year when Vladimir Putin’s Security Council released a document that carried the subtle title "About The US National Security Strategy.” We’ve also seen it on a number of occasions over the past several weeks in the wake of Russia’s stepped up military role in support of the Assad regime at Latakia. For instance, last week, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova delivered the following hilariously veracious assessment of how Washington has sought to characterize Moscow’s relationship with Damascus:
"First we were accused of providing arms to the so-called 'bloody regime that was persecuting democratic activists, now it's a new edition - we are supposedly harming the fight against terrorism. That is complete rubbish."
Of course what that suggests is that even as Russia uses ISIS as a smokescreen to justify sending troops to Syria, the Kremlin is by definition being more honest about its motives than The White House. That is, ISIS has destabilized Assad and because Russia has an interest in keeping the regime in power, Moscow actually doeshave a reason to eradicate Islamic State.
The US, on the other hand, facilitated the destabilization of the country in the first place by playing a role in training and arming all manner of Syrian rebels, and to say that some of them might well have gone on to fight for ISIS would be a very generous assessment when it comes to describing the CIA’s involvement (a less generous assessment would be to call ISIS a “strategic CIA asset”).
That means that the US will only really care about wiping out ISIS once Assad is gone and it’s time to install a puppet government that’s friendly to both Washington and Riyadh and at that point - assuming there are no other regimes in the area that the Pentagon feels like might need destabilizing - the US military will swiftly “liberate” Syria from the ISIS “scourge.”
To be sure, Russia is well aware of the game being played here and if there’s anything Vladimir Putin is not, it’s shy about calling the US out, which is precisely what he did on Tuesday at a security summit of ex-Soviet countries in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Bloomberg has more:
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the fight against Islamic State should be the global community’s top priority in Syria, rather than changing the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
“It’s necessary to think about the political transition in that country” and Assad is willing to “involve healthy opposition forces in the administration of the state,” Putin said. “But the focus today is definitely on the need to combine forces in the fight against terrorism.”
Countries need to “put aside geopolitical ambitions” as well as “direct or indirect use of terrorist groups to achieve” goals that include regime change, in order to counter the threat of Islamic State, Putin said. “Elementary common sense responsibility for global and regional security demands the collective effort of the international commu
The first thing to note there is that Putin has essentially called the US out for using terrorists to destabilize Assad. So for anyone just looking for the punchline, that was it. Everyone else, read on.
At this point what should be obvious is that Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Syria are anything but unclear. Russia is openly supplying the Assad regime with military aid in an effort to prevent terrorists and extremists (some of which were trained by the US and received aid from Qatar) from facilitating the strongman’s ouster.
It’s that simple and frankly, the only two things Russia hasn’t made explicitly and publicly clear (because this is international diplomacy after all, which means everyone is always lying about something) are i) the role that natural gas plays in all of this, and ii) that the Kremlin will seek to prevent anyone from overthrowing Assad, so to the extent that there are any real, well-meaning “freedom fighters” in Syria, they’ll find themselves on the wrong end of Russian tank fire just the same as ISIS.
As clear as that is, the US must stick to the absurd notion that the Pentagon just can’t seem to get to the bottom of what Russia is doing and to the still more absurd idea that Russia - who seems to be the only outside party that’s actually interested in fighting ISIS as evidenced by the fact that there are Russian boots on the ground - is somehow hurting the very serious effort by the US and its allies to defeat Islamic radicals in Syria.
The much more straightforward way to go about this (unless of course you have a 9/11 and a story about WMDs buried in the desert as a cover that makes an outright, unilateral invasion possible), is to allow for the entire country to descend into chaos until one or more rebel/extremist groups finally manages to take Damascus, at which point you simply walk in with the Marines and remove them, then install any government you see fit. In the meantime, you just fly over and bomb stuff (hopefully with a coalition that includes Europe) in order to ensure that the situation remains sufficiently unstable. But now this plan won’t work, because unless we see a replay of the Soviet-Afghan war, none of Syria’s rebel groups are going to be able to rout the Russian army which means the US is stuck doing exactly what it’s doing now: trying to explain why it won’t join Russia in a coalition to eradicate ISIS while working to figure out what’s next now that the Russians are officially on the ground.
Putin has boldly moved Russian air, naval, marine, and SAM units into Syria. In response, the Obama administration, as is typical, done nothing but mumble about it courtesy of Secretary of State Kerry. Putin undoubtedly figures that so long as Obama remains president, he will have a free hand in Syria, especially now (thanks to the nuclear agreement) he has Iranian power and influence at his disposal.
And so now Israel finds itself in a situation not too dissimilar to the one it faced in July 1970. The Russian S-300 missiles and MIG 31s which are moving into Syria threaten the IAF’s freedom of action there, where it has intervened occasionally to limit the movement of weaponry to Hizb'allah and to keep the Golan front quiet. No doubt the IAF could shoot the Russian MIG 31s out of the sky as easily as it did Soviet MIG 21s four decades ago, but the costs of such a move, then as now, are unpredictable. Whether and how Israel handles the Russian MIGs may well define how Russia’s reentry to the Middle East goes. One thing Israel cannot count on, with Obama in office, is that the U.S. will have its back.
Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, has visited Moscow for the second time, Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported on Tuesday.
According to the newspaper, the alleged meeting occurred last week.
Alleged meeting suggests increased efforts by Russia and Iran to coordinate support for Bashar Assad's government, as Moscow sends military advisers to Syria and builds temporary housing.
The newspaper did not specify whom Soleimani met in Moscow. Soleimani is believed to coordinate the Iranian campaign against ISIS and other groups in Iraq and Syria. He is subject to a UN travel ban.
The Lebanese publication speculated that the visit involved Russian-Iranian efforts to coordinate actions in Syria.
This report follows a senior Israeli security source's claim that Soleimani recently sent hundreds of Iranian soldiers to fight rebels in Syria. According to this source, Iranian forces are fighting alongside Hezbollah for the city of Zabadani in southwest Syria, not far from the Lebanese border.
Russia and Iran have a shared interest in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad as much as possible. The New York Times reported last week that Russia has been building a secret base in Syria and sent a delegation of military advisers. It was further reported that Russia had brought temporary housing units to the port city of Lattakiya, capable of housing up to 1,000 advisers and other military personnel.
Also Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin strongly defended Moscow's military assistance to the Syrian government, saying it's impossible to defeat the Islamic State group without cooperating with Damascus.
Speaking at a meeting of heads of states at a Moscow-dominated security alliance of ex-Soviet nations in Tajikistan, Putin urged other nations to follow Russia's example and offer military support to Assad's government.
Putin shrugged off allegations that Moscow's support for Assad has sparked a flow of refugees, saying that without Russia's support for Assad's regime the number of Syrian refugees heading to Europe would have been even bigger.
"People are fleeing Syria primarily to escape fighting that has been fueled from the outside with supplies of weapons and hardware, they are fleeing to escape terrorist atrocities," he said. "Without Russia's support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees would have been even bigger."
The Russian leader is set to address the Syrian crisis when he speaks to the UN General Assembly later this month, and observers in Moscow believe he wants a Russian military force on the ground to be ready by that time.
The Vatican released a statement Tuesday officially welcoming the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 world powers (U.S., UK, China, France, Russia, Germany) and Iran, stating that the Holy See believes Tehran will reduce its nuclear capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief. In calling for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, the Vatican also appeared to target Israel, given that it is the lone nuclear power in the region.
The Vatican “values positively this agreement because it considers that the way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said in a statement.