“Growing Russian military presence in Syria”

Following on from the earlier report, an article argues that a satellite image means Russian troops are in Syria, “evidence has steadily emerged of a growing Russian military presence in Syria. As Bashar al-Assad’s armies have failed him in the field, he has increasingly relied on outside help. Initially, that help came from Hezbollah and Iran, but now it appears to be Moscow’s turn. And Washington may finally be waking up to what looks like a substantial Russian intervention in Syria. New satellite images, obtained by Foreign Policy, of construction at an air base near Latakia leave little doubt that U.S. policy toward ending the conflict in Syria, such as it is, is now in total disarray. As they say, seeing is believing”.

Interestingly the piece notes “there has long been a Russian military presence in Syria. When opposition forces overran a Syrian listening post in October last year, the images revealed that it was staffed by the Russian military. More recently, analysts have noted pictures and videos that seem to confirm the presence of Russian combat forces fighting in Syria. Russian military vehicles have been sighted, while Russian soldiers have posted images and comments on Russian social media sites like VKontakte and the California-based LiveJournal, detailing their service in the war-torn country. (Some of the best open-source analysis has been on Bellingcat’s website.) It is very strange world we live in, one marked both by the “little green men” of Russia’s “hybrid” warfare who Moscow can disavow and by data ubiquity that allows analysts to mock those disavowals. Still, there has always been a question about how extensive Russia’s support for the Syrian regime has been the past four years. Are those even Russians inside the Moscow-supplied combat vehicles? Open-source analysts have been quite enterprising in suggesting the answer is yes, hearing snippets of Russian in between bursts from the vehicle’s gun”.

He notes that “On Sept. 4, the New York Times published an article suggesting that Russia had shipped prefabricated housing and a transportable air traffic control station to an airfield near Latakia. It was a great scoop, but I was pretty baffled that the New York Times didn’t bother to purchase a satellite image of the facility. Had they done so, they would have realized that they buried the lede. Drag the slider back and forth to compare a Google Earth image of the air base near Latakia with a recent satellite image of the same air base. The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station. It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for Bashar’s elder brother, who died in a car accident in 1994). This canton appears designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces”.

What the author does not mention is the effect of waging two “wars” of the coffers of Putin’s Russia. Furthermore there is no discussion as to how this might effect the stability of the Russian regime.

The report continues “What is at stake is how to deal with a situation in which Vladimir Putin is going all-in on behalf of the Assad government while our policy is in tatters. Rogin reports that U.S. officials believe Russia will base combat aircraft at the site. That is easy to confirm from the satellite image. In recent weeks, construction crews have completed a taxiway that connects the runway to the construction area. That means aircraft shelters for Russian aircraft. The scale of the construction goes even further. A large area of ground has been cleared in many different parts of the air base. There are pallets and crates everywhere. Trucks are visible driving into the site. (We’ve annotated the image, but I highly recommend following @finriswolf on Twitter.) The image drives home the implication of all those flights and shipments heading to Syria: Russia is substantially expanding its involvement”.

The implications for this involvement is that “There is now little hope of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, unless Washington wants to be in the business of shooting down Russian aircraft. From a broader perspective, U.S. efforts to arm the opposition to Assad mean fighting a proxy war with Moscow, either by trying to down the Russian planes or helping Syrian opposition forces kill Russian combat troops on the ground. That seems a much tougher task than fighting a proxy war with Iran and Hezbollah”.

He mentions that “What Russia has done, however, is make it clear that it will not let Assad fall. He can’t win, but Russia won’t let him lose. That dooms Syria to what looks like endless war, as Assad fights to the last man. There are those who see Syria as a quagmire for Putin, a kind of matched pair to our own folly in Iraq; just as Washington collectively saw Afghanistan as payback for Vietnam. I am not so sanguine”.

There is another alterative, that Russia knows Assad is finished and is simply using its military force for leverage to create a statelet for Assad to rule giving him a way out and at the same time pleasing Russia and Iran.


One Response to ““Growing Russian military presence in Syria””

  1. Order and Tradition Says:

    […] Shiite-led states in the Mideast. Russia, one of Assad’s longest and strongest benefactors, is boosting its military forces in Syria and doing so with the aid of Iran and even Iraq — a nation the United […]

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