Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Russia Continues Build-Up In Syria: Is Syria The Powder-Keg In The Middle East?

This story begins with a scenario in which, ostensibly, the U.S. and Europe need to begin using more airstrikes against ISIS (which thus far hasn't happened in a meaningful way despite the rhetoric). At the same time, Russia is now threatening to do the same. This is a dangerous mixture especially with tensions rising in the Ukraine. Ultimately, the U.S. wants to remove Assad from power and Russia wants him in power. This is going to be worth watching very closely. The article below comes from Zero Hedge: 

Russia Sends More Tank Landing Ships, Military Aircraft To Syria

French President Francois Hollande's response to Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II would involve bombing the very place from which the refugees are fleeing. Here’s what Bloomberg (and Hollande himself) said on Monday:

Hollande is seeking a response to Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II in tune with public opinion that remains largely hostile to a massive increase in immigration.

“I’ve asked the minister of defense to begin reconnaissance flights over Syria from tomorrow that would allow for strikes against the Islamic State,” Hollande said at a press conference in Paris on Monday. Hollande, who ruled out sending troops, said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is an impediment to peace in the country.

In many ways, this looks like a replay of the infamous YouTube chemical weapons videos which were supposed to serve as the original pretext for Western strikes on the Assad regime. That is, the US and its allies are determined to find the right mix of propaganda to justify a ground incursion and this time around, that mix will apparently include heart-wrenching pictures of migrants. As we said on Tuesday, the real tragedy here is that now, the pitiable plight of Syria's beleaguered masses will be used as an excuse to cause them still more pain and suffering.

Well sure enough, on Wednesday, we got still more evidence that Western Europe is set to join the US and Turkey (and soon Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar) in conducting bombing raids in Syria. Here’s WSJ:

Faced with a burgeoning refugee crisis in Europe sparked by global extremism, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday there is a growing consensus that the multinational military campaign against Islamic State must focus more on targeting the group’s nerve centers in Syria.

With thousands of people flowing into Europe every day, France and England are both poised to set aside long-standing reservations and join Washington in carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria.

How France and the UK plan to explain, if pressed, the logic behind the idea that dropping more bombs on Syria should leave Syrians more predisposed to reminaing in the country as opposed to fleeing to Europe is anyone's guess, but even WSJ is starting to pick up on the fact that the timing here looks rather convenient, as the UK and France are now set to throw their respective air forces into the mix just as Russia moves to provideAssad with badly needed reinforcements at Latakia. Here's WSJ again:

As Europe deepens its involvement, Russia appears to be increasing its military role in Syria. U.S. military officials said Tuesday that Russia has sent in new planes, personnel and equipment in what appears to be an effort to set up a new air hub on the Syrian coast.

American officials are concerned the Russian buildup is an attempt by Moscow to provide more air support for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Moscow’s intentions aren’t yet clear. The moves by Moscow could increase the risk that members of the U.S.-led coalition could face off against Russian jets in the skies above Syria.

Speaking of Russia and their expanded presence, it now looks as though the Kremlin may soon abandon all pretense that its soldiers are not in Syria to fight - although obviously, no one on either side is yet prepared to drop the ISIS charade that has served, from the beginning, as the smokescreen politicians use to keep the public hyptnotized and blissfully unaware of their respective governments' real geopolitical agendas. Here's Bloomberg:

Russia said it’s ready to look at measures to fight Islamist insurgents in Syria if the conflict worsens, rejecting U.S. criticism of its deepening military involvement in the Middle Eastern country.

“Russia has never made a secret out of its military cooperation with Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova Zakharova said in Moscow. “Russian specialists are helping Syrians to use Russian equipment. It’s difficult to understand the anti-Russian hysteria in this regard.”

And then from Reuters:

Russia has sent two tank landing ships and additional aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and has deployed a small number of forces there, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, in the latest signs of a military buildup that has put Washington on edge.

The two U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the intent of Russia's military moves in Syria remained unclear.

U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for an air combat role in Syria's conflict to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

And still more

Russian military experts have expanded their presence in Syria over the last year, a Syrian military official said on Wednesday, pointing to a deepening of ties which Washington fears may be a buildup to support President Bashar al-Assad.

"Russian experts are always present but in the last year they have been present to a greater degree," the Syrian official said. "All aspects of the relationship are currently being developed, including the military one," he said.

Finally, Germany has now "warned" Moscow to tread lightly in its support of Assad:

Germany's foreign minister warned Russia on Wednesday against increased military intervention in Syria, saying the Iran nuclear deal and new U.N. initiatives offered a starting point for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.

Has you can see from the above, ISIS - the reason everyone involved cites when asked to explain their interest in intervening militarily in Syria - tends to get lost in the shuffle. 

That's not a coincidence. 

Rather, it simply reflects the fact that, as we noted over the weekend, neither side cares too much about what does or doesn’t happen to Islamic State unless the group’s fate somehow matters in determining whether a post-civil war Syria is still governed by Assad. 

In short, ISIS has played its role. The Assad regime is destabilized and Damascus is up for grabs. From here on out, it’s all about whether a coalition comprised of the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar ends up in a direct military conflict with Russia and the Assad regime. 

If you need a bit of anecdotal evidence to support that assessment, just ask people on the ground, many of whom can't seem to understand, what with all the fanfare about stepped up airstrikes and a more determined coalition, why no one seems to be fighting ISIS. Once more, from WSJ:

Islamic State fighters intensified their advance in recent days on a town in northern Syria close to a vital supply route for Syrian rebels near the border with Turkey, according to opposition rebels and local residents.

On Friday, Islamic State briefly entered the town, only to be beaten back by rebels, Marea residents and rebels said. But the rebels have lost three villages.

Though the U.S. and Turkey have said they want to oust Islamic State from this area, rebels in the Marea area say they are battling the militants on their own and complain they have not received much support from either country.

“We are fighting ISIS by ourselves,” said Abu Firas, referring to Islamic State by one of its acronyms. near Marea in the last month.

Marea is near the so-called "ISIS-free" zone that the US and Turkey sought to establish last month after Erdogan effectively traded Washington access to Incirlik (which gives the US army a forward operating base for what will eventually be a ground incursion in Syria) for NATO’s acquiescence to the extermination of the Kurdish opposition in Turkey. Of course ISIS might have already been routed from the area were it not for the fact that Washington and Ankara have literally forbidden the Kurdish YPG from continuing their highly successful offensive along the Turkish border due to Turkey's disdain for anything and everything Kurd-related. 

Given that, one would think that the very least Turkey would do, if it were genuinely concerned about ISIS that is, is make a concerted effort to stop towns like Marea from being captured but instead, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's army is off chasing the PKK in the mountains of Northern Iraq. 

If you think this is a "friggin' mess" (to quote the Pentagon) now, just wait until the UK, France, and Germany get involved in the face of an increasingly obstinate Russia. 

This folks, is the worst circle of foreign policy hell, and it's brought to you exclusively by governments' never-ending struggle to gain leverage over one another by controlling the distribution of the world's energy supply.

No comments: