While Russia continues to bomb Syria, senior U.K. Army officers urge the government to tackle the growing threat of ground war against Russia by investing in its fleet of main battle tanks.
Senior British Army commanders see a threat in Russia’s actions in Syria and its ever-developing military hardware, including Moscow’s latest development the T-14 Armata main battle tank, which is said to be able to withstand all NATO’s modern weapons.
The calls to invest in the fleet of tanks comes amid growing tensions between NATO and Russia, after the Kremlin threatened with “nuclear counter measures” as well as “dangerous consequences” over U.S. intentions to station new nuclear weapons in Germany.
Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is trying to reach a “compromise deal” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to coordinate actions against ISIS in Syria.
And while there are no signs that such a deal will be reached anytime soon, senior British Army officers agree that a possibility of a ground war against Russia must be something the U.K. would be prepared for.
It took the British military more than three months to make combat-ready some of its tanks because they had been either mothballed or picked to pieces.
NATO’s military drills earlier this year showed that the Western forces need at least a month to deploy military groups comprising of 30,000 soldiers, while Russia is capable of deploying up to 100,000 troops within 24 hours.
“We have got issues with the tanks we’ve got and if we don't do something about it we will have issues - what we will do is in discussion,” he said, speaking at DSEI in London.
According to the Sunday Express, senior Army sources confirmed last night that Russia’s Armata T-14 main battle tank had “focused minds” on the issue.
Russia made a statement last week that it would be forced to respond with “counter measures” in order to “restore the balance of power” in Europe if the U.S. increases its nuclear presence in Germany by placing 20 new B61-12 nuclear bombs later this year.
An increase in NATO airspace incursions by Russian bombers have shown that NATO “must be prepared to revisit Cold War scenarios, and this includes conventional, symmetric warfare in Eastern Europe,” a source was quoted as saying by the Sunday Express last night.
Vladimir Putin has conscripted 150,000 new troops into the Russian army as the country unleashed a new wave of airstrikes in Syria - while and Iran and Islamist group Hezbollah prepare for a major ground offensive.
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria over the last ten days, backed by the country's Lebanese allies, Hezbollah, and rebel fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan, two Lebanese sources claimed today.
One of the sources said the Iranian ground forces were 'soldiers and officers', not advisers, adding: 'We mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more.'
They are being supported by Russia's warplanes who bombed camps of rebel fighters trained by the CIA, one of the group's commanders claimed.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the decree to conscript hundreds of thousands of new troops was not related to the escalating conflict in the Middle East.
Dmitry Peskov, who said Russia is targeting ISIS and other extremist groups, told Sputnik News: 'This is a regular document which the president signs twice a year.'
It came as Moscow claimed to have attacked 12 ISIS targets including a command centre in Hama and ammunition depots in Idlib on the second day of the aerial campaign.
The area targeted is largely made up of rebel insurgents which, unlike Islamic State, are supported by United States allies such as the Arab states and Turkey.
A Syrian security source said bombs were dropped on a coalition of Islamist rebels including Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch, the so-called Army of Conquest which fiercely opposes ISIS.
The head of another rebel group, Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, which is part of the Free Syrian Army, said 20 missiles struck their Idlib base in two separate raids
His fighters were trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia as part of a programme Washington said was aimed at supporting groups that oppose ISIS and President Assad.
But Syria's ambassador to Moscow, Riyad Hadded, claimed the strikes were 'carried out exclusively against the positions of ISIS'.
Meanwhile Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has challenged the United States to prove that Russia's operation was not targeting 'terrorists'.
Today, Russia admitted the list of bombing targets were drawn up by the Syrian Defence Ministry, while it also used its own military satellites to obtain 'intelligence' to pinpoint targets .
Moscow acknowledged it had moved marines to the war-torn country as the West fears more land forces are on the way.
Putin denied allegations that his pilots left a trail of death among civilians, claiming this was 'information warfare' by the West.
French President Francois Hollande said today that air strikes in Syria should only target ISIS, not other groups.
However, the Army of Conquest, which controls Idlib province, said on Twitter that 'Russian pigs' had flattened a mosque in Jisr al-Shughur.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also joined the condemnation of Russian attacks by reporting US-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah was hit today and on Wednesday.
The conflict could escalate even more with the arrival of hundreds of Iranian troops, who have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad's government.
They are backed by Assad's Lebanese Islamist group Hezbo
A picture emerged today purporting to show heavy Russian military equipment in desert camouflage being sent from the country's southern Novorossiysk port to Syria.
The image may suggest Russia could be involved in significant land operations.
Patriotic Russian blogger Boris Rozhin said the armour shown on this picture was spotted moving through Krasnodar region towards Novorossiysk, a key Black Sea port.
'The column is rather big and consists only of new and modern machines - 10 KamAZ-43269 'Vystrel' (BMP-97), about 20 BTR-82, 4 BTR-80, 5 armoured Ural and 1 armoured staff-carrier,' he wrote.
'If you take a close look at the photo and see the colours, you'll realize that transport painted in this colours can only be used in a desert, where it will blend with Syrian sand. From Russia with love!'
Back in June, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimaini, visited a town north of Latakia on the frontlines of Syria’s protracted civil war. Following that visit, he promised that Tehran and Damascus were set to unveil a new strategy that would “surprise the world.”
Just a little over a month later, Soleimani - in violation of a UN travel ban - visited Russia and held meetings with The Kremlin. The Pentagon now says those meetings were “very important” in accelerating the timetable for Russia’s involvement in Syria. The General allegedly made another visit to Moscow in September.
The timeline here is no coincidence. Iran has long provided covert and overt support to the Assad regime via financial transfers, logistical support from the Quds, and via the involvement of Hezbollah in the Assad government’s fight to regain control of the country.
As we’ve documented extensively over the past several weeks, what appears to have happened here is that Iran, unable to simply invade Syria in support of Assad (because doing so would obviously be a disaster in terms of preserving the optics around the P5+1 nuclear deal), turned to Moscow which has in the past used Russia’s Security Council veto to block the referral of the war in Syria to the Hague and which is a known ally of both Tehran and Damascus.
While it’s unclear exactly what the pitch was to Putin, Russia clearly saw an opportunity to advance The Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda at a key time in history. Moscow is keen to put on a brave face amid the most contentious standoff with the West since the Cold War (as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea) and amid the related effort to preserve Gazprom’s market share in Europe.
In short, Putin looks to have viewed this as the ultimate geopolitical win-win. That is, Russia gets to i) expand its influence in the Middle East in defiance of Washington and its allies, a move that also helps to protect Russian energy interests and preserves the Mediterranean port at Tartus, and ii) support its allies in Tehran and Damascus thus preserving the counterbalance to the US-Saudi-Qatar alliance.
Meanwhile, Iran gets to enjoy the support of the Russian military juggernaut on the way to protecting the delicate regional nexus that is the source of Tehran’s Mid-East influence. It is absolutely critical for Iran to keep Assad in power, as the loss of Syria to the West would effectively cut the supply line between Iran and Hezbollah.
The same dynamic is playing out in Iraq. That is, Iran is fighting ISIS via various Shiite militias just as it’s fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen via the Shia Houthis. It is thus extremely significant that Baghdad has agreed to share intelligence with Syria and Russia, as that effectively means the Iran-backed Shiite militias battling for control of Iraq will enjoy the support of the Russian military.
What should be obvious here is that this is a coordinated plan.
The Kremlin has effectively agreed to bring the might of the Russian air force to bear on Assad’s opponents in Syria and on Sunni militants in Iraq in support of Iranian ground troops and because the US and its allies have failed so miserably in terms of fielding anti-Assad rebels who don't turn out to be extremists, Putin gets to pitch the whole thing as a "war on terror." It would be difficult to design a more elegant power play.
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
"The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisors ... we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more," the second source said. Iraqis would also take part in the operation, the source said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it would consider any request from the Iraqi government to conduct air strikes against Islamic State inside Iraq, but said it had not yet received such an appeal, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
It cited the foreign ministry as saying it would evaluate the "political and military" logic of such a move if a request was forthcoming.
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of what appears to be going on here. This is nothing short of a Middle Eastern coup, as Iran looks to displace Saudi Arabia as the regional power broker and as Russia looks to supplant the US as the superpower puppet master.
Do not expect Saudi Arabia and Israel to remain on the sidelines here.
If Russia ends up bolstering Iran's position in Syria (by expanding Hezbollah's influence and capabilities) and if the Russian air force effectively takes control of Iraq thus allowing Iran to exert a greater influence over the government in Baghdad, the fragile balance of power that has existed in the region will be turned on its head and in the event this plays out, one should not expect Washington, Riyadh, Jerusalem, and London to simply go gentle into that good night.