"Just how far is Russia prepared to go to back the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad?
Recent sightings of brand new Russian armoured vehicles in Syria, of types never previously supplied to its ally, suggest that with the Assad regime suffering serious reverses, Moscow is intent on redressing the military balance.
On 20 August, a heavily-laden Alligator class landing ship of the Russian Navy, the Nikolay Filchenkov, was seen passing southwards through the Bosphorus.
On board, according to experts who have analysed the images, were trucks and armoured vehicles.
The ship was believed to be on its way to Syria." BBC
I suppose that the BBC's people qualify as "real journalists."
I have been probing the available access in Washington and New York and the following points have emerged:
- The US Government believes that Russia has decided to raise the level of its intervention and risk in the Syrian Civil War.
- The ultimate scope and size of that increased role are unclear as yet.
- Russian motivation for this increased role is directly related to Russian discontent with Iran's focus in Syria.
Russia sees a need to maintain the existence of the government of the state of Syria believing that the alternative to the present multi-confessional dictatorship would not be a secular and liberal regime. The Russian belief is that the inevitable replacement government would be another jihadi state run by IS or Nusra (AQ)
Russia believes that Iran in its efforts in Syria is not sufficiently focused on the absolute need for governmental survival with or without Bashar Assad. The Russians believe that the Iranians in their policy and power projection in Syria are more concerned with protection of the Shia population of Lebanon than with the survival of secular government in Syria. To that end the IRGC Quds force in Syria and their Lebanese Hizbullah allies are intent on holding the line of the anti-Lebanon range against Sunni jihadi invasion of Lebanon. This is reflected in the recent maximum effort by these Shia forces and to some extent the Lebanese Army in the Qalamoun sector and especially around the town of Zabadani.
The media often describe the Alawi sect as Shia. It is not. The sect represents beliefs and doctrines so heterodox that they can only be described by orthodox Sunni or Shia 'ulema (scholars) as heretical. The Syrian constitution had to be modified to allow the elder Assad to be president because the constitution required that the president be a Muslim and the opinion of all but the Alawis was that Alawis are not Muslims let alone Shia. The present Syrian government while multi-confessional is dominated by Alawis. The Iranians are acutely aware of this.
- To rectify this situation the Russians will increase their "stake" in the survival of the Syrian government. It is believed that the Russian will introduce air units to provide close air support for the Syrian Army. The Russians will build another maritime facility in the Latakia area on the Syrian coast in the heart of Alawi home territory. This facility could have many useful functions but the need for Russian possession of sufficient throughput for sea transported goods in an expanded Russian presence is obvious. Air transported supply for a large presence is never sufficient.
- The Israeli Air Force has been engaged in providing air support to the Nusra (AQ) led rebel forces south of Damascus. The situation of these rebels is now complicated by the entry of IS forces in the southern Damascus suburbs. They came in from the east and are now as much engaged in fighting the Nusra Front led rebels as they are in fighting Syrian government forces.
-The entry of Russian air units into this struggle south of Damascus will present significant de-confliction problems between them and the Israelis.
- It is increasingly clear that the mere presence of NATO manned Patriot air defense missiles in Hatay Province in Turkey was a significant factor in enabling the Nusra (AQ) jihadi capture of Idlib Province in Syria and that portion of Aleppo Province north of Aleppo city. The mechanism for this effect is easy to understand. Patriot battery radars reach far across the border between Turkey and Syria. Syrian Air Force aircraft entering that space are "painted" by these radars. For any pilot, to be painted by the target acquisition radars of an air defense battery is a profoundly discouraging experience. as a result Syrian air did not play a major role in holding back jihadi advances in the area. This is, of course, precisely what Erdogan had in mind in demanding NATO air defense of Turkey's border.
- The Obama Administration continues to demonstrate an inability to comprehend the simple truth that life and policy making are both things that require the ability to choose between unpalatable alternatives. In this case the WH, NSC and State Department continue to insist that their desires to destroy Assad's government AND to destroy IS are compatible.
-It is increasingly clear that President Obama is disengaged from foreign policy and concentrating on what he sees as his revolutionary domestic agenda. His victory over Bibi/AIPAC in the Iran nuclear deal fracas is likely to be his last serious foreign policy action. The foreign policy apparat is running on auto-pilot and is in the hands of incompetents like General Allen. It is reported to me that every interagency foreign policy meeting in the WH begins with a a competitive harangue against Putin and the Russians in what has become a mythic self-generated "struggle" against an imagined rival. In that atmosphere the ultimate US reaction to increased Russian activity n Syria can nor be predicted. pl