Moscow – President Vladimir Putin already has achieved some of his objectives with his air campaign in Syria: the Syrian army launched a multi-pronged offensive taking advantage of the Russian strikes and the U.S. its allies are busy pondering over how to respond to Moscow’s move.
Putin has pursued several goals with his air campaign in Syria. He has aimed to reaffirm Russia’s status as a global power, distract attention from the Ukrainian crisis that badly hurt Russia-West ties and also protect Russian interests in Syria and the Middle East region in general.
He has achieved some success. The world is abuzz with the news about Russia’s air campaign, the Russian forces have suffered no casualties yet and other players are looking at Russia with a new sense of respect and apprehension.
But Putin also faces major potential risks with the air war. The strikes will make Russia a top target for all stripes of Islamic radicals, and a terror threat will rise. And some regional powers, like Turkey, whose support Moscow needs, are strongly against Russia’s action, putting relations at risk.
SHOW OF FIREPOWER
The air campaign in Syria marks the first time since the Soviet war in Afghanistan when Moscow launched a military operation outside the former Soviet Union. The quickness of deployment of the Russian task force to Syria’s coastal province of Latakia has caught the U.S. and NATO by surprise. By the time Putin addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 28, calling for a stronger global action against the Islamic State group, the Russian troops were fully ready.
Putin pulled the trigger on Sept. 30. Since then, Russian combat jets have run more than 100 strikes on positions of the Islamic State and other groups in Syria, and on Oct. 7 Russia upped the ante by launching a barrage of cruise missiles from its navy ships in the Caspian Sea at targets in Syria about 1,500 kilometers away.
The missiles flew over Iran and Iraq, bypassing the air space of NATO member Turkey and the U.S.-friendly ex-Soviet nation of Azerbaijan. The attack was the combat debut of Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles, an equivalent of U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles which have been widely used during both Gulf wars and other conflicts.
By launching the cruise missile strike, Russia has sought to demonstrate its long-range precision strike capability, something it has never done before. Along with the cruise missiles, the campaign offered Russia a chance to test some of its other new weapons in real combat. They included drones and laser- and satellite-guided bombs and missiles, a demonstration of the new high-tech capability of the modernized Russian military.
CHOICE OF TARGETS
Putin and his officials said the Russian campaign has targeted the Islamic State and other extremist groups, notably Jabhat Al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria which has seized broad territories and posed a serious threat to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
They shrugged off claims by the U.S. and some of its allies that the air strikes have largely spared the IS and focused instead on hitting some U.S.-backed rebel factions fighting Assad’s military. Fending off the claims, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov scoffed at Western description of some rebel groups in Syria as ‘moderate.’ “If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?”
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