giovedì, Maggio 13

Russia's air campaign in Syria: what next? field_506ffb1d3dbe2

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The Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that Washington and its allies describe as moderate, is something that is hard to see on the ground, pushed to the sidelines by more violent groups, Lavrov argued.

In a bid to seize initiative, Putin said that Russia was ready to talk to the Free Syrian Army and even proposed that it pulls forces together with Assad’s military in fighting the Islamic State, a proposal Washington dismissed as ridiculous. Still, the Russian leader has discussed the idea with French President Francois Hollande. France, Germany and other European nations have taken a more cautious tone on Russia’s action in Syria, which differed sharply from a combative tone taken by Washington.

 

‘DECONFLICTION’ TALKS WITH THE U.S. AND OTHERS

While President Barack Obama’s administration has been critical of the Russian action, saying that it amounts to shoring up Assad’s regime, it has talked to Russia about ‘deconflliction,’ a procedure to make sure that Russian and U.S. jets don’t clash accidentally in the skies over Syria.

The Pentagon has sent Russia a proposed document outlining ground rules for avoiding incidents, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said his officials engaged in specific discussion with the Americans.

While Russia challenged the U.S. and its allies to share information on the IS targets they have so that Russian planes can hit them, Washington quickly ruled it out, saying that such exchange is impossible at a time when Russia and the U.S. have fundamentally different goals in Syria.

Russia also set up a mechanism of consultations with Turkey, which protested strongly against two successive violations of its airspace by Russian military aircraft. The incursions further vexed Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan, who already was strongly critical of Russia’s support for Assad.

 

FUTURE CHALLENGES

Putin has firmly ruled out the possibility of Russian troops involvement in any ground operations in Syria. With air strikes against the IS and other groups, which lack modern air defense weapons, Russia runs little risk of casualties. Involvement in ground combat would inevitably involve losses, which may sap Putin’s support at home.

Also, the Russian military simply lacks the capability to deploy and supply any sizable group of ground forces far from its borders. Some 2,000 soldiers backed by tanks and artillery have been deployed to the Russian air base in Latakia and its naval facility in Tartus to provide protection for the bases, and that’s what Russia can afford.

While air strikes alone obviously can’t defeat the IS, Russia would like to leave the ground combat job to the Iranians, who have played a key role in backing up Assad’s forces on the battlefield with their troops and expertise.

It remains to be seen whether offensive operations launched by the Syrian army on several fronts this week could be successful. If Assad’s military scores at least some relative success, Putin may use it to persuade Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other regional foes of Assad to negotiate a political compromise, which he could then present as victory.

 

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