Russian Military Campaign and the New Reality in Syria

Posted on 10/12/15
By Aydoğan Vatandaş | Via Today's Zaman
A view of destruction in the Bab Amro neighborhood of Homs. (Photo by Freedom House, Creative Commons License)
A view of destruction in the Bab Amro neighborhood of Homs. (Photo by Freedom House, Creative Commons License)

Despite the recent remarks of US President Barack Obama last week at the United Nations General Assembly signaling his willingness to work with Russia and Iran to find a solution to Syria‘s civil war, the recent military campaign of Russia in Syria indicates that US objectives and interests have already been glossed over.


While President Obama made clear that his government supports a managed transition to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, the Russian military campaign in Syria has demonstrated that Russia has not changed its position on Syria and is safeguarding the Assad regime.


Though the Russian military campaign was expected to focus particularly on the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), recent reports indicated that Russia has attacked not just ISIL but some elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that are linked to the moderate opposition movement against Assad.


Therefore, it is safe to say that Russia has not made distinctions between the insurgent groups in Syria based on their moderateness or militancy, but rather their level of threat to the Assad regime and Russian interests.


When Turkey allowed the US to use İncirlik Air Base in Adana for US air forces to launch air strikes against ISIS, Turkey also joined the military campaign against ISIL. But Turkey’s objective suddenly changed, and its military campaign is focused on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).


President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the PKK is Turkey’s urgent threat, not ISIL.


Russia’s recent move in Syria seems to have a similar motive.


However, Western public opinion seems to remain reluctant to oppose the Russian military campaign in Syria, which means that Russia and Iran have won the psychological war that dates back to 2012.


Here is why.


When the Syrian war deepened in 2012, the Russian objective was to create the sentiment that should the Assad regime fall, al-Qaeda-linked groups would replace it in Syria. This sentiment was gradually and successfully created in the American media, which eventually prevented President Obama from taking more aggressive steps against the Assad regime.


It now seems that American public opinion appreciates and supports the Russian military campaign in Syria.


Donald Trump, the most famous Republican candidate, accused his presidential rivals on Friday night of wanting to “start World War III over Syria.”


And then he suddenly suggested that the United States should let Russia deal with the problem.


“This is what they say,” Trump said. “They want to start World War III over Syria. Give me a break. You know, Russia wants to get [ISIL], right? We want to get [ISIL]. Russia is in Syria — maybe we should let them do it.”


What the US government is now facing is the fact that they have failed to achieve their objectives in Syria. Now it seems that it is Russia and Iran who have to find a solution in Syria. The US government and American public opinion seem to have accepted that reality.


Russian aggressive violations of Turkey’s airspace are based on this reality.


NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference that intelligence they have received provides them with reason to say that the Russian airspace violations don’t look like an accident.


Russia and Iran are expecting Turkey to understand this reality as well. They simply want Turkey stop its involvement in Syria.


When the US is preparing for a presidential race, it would be safe to predict that the Obama administration would prefer not to take aggressive action against Russia and Iran. Especially when it has already reached a nuclear deal with Iran.


Edward Snowden and the scoop of his access to government secrets gives Russia the advantage, and he is still being hosted by the Russian government.


At the same time, Turkey is in political turmoil and facing the biggest social and political crisis of its history, which makes it very vulnerable against the Russian and Iranian stances in Syria.


It is true that the United States is the military hegemon in the Middle East, maintaining a large presence that includes the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Naval Support Activity Bahrain, army bases in Kuwait and Turkey and a training presence throughout the region. However, this huge military power doesn’t seem sufficient to dissuade Russia from military aggression in Syria.


If the US government accepts the Russian military campaign in Syria, it means the United States unipolar moment has already passed and that the roles of other strong states in the region are growing in importance.


Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist based in New York.

This article first appeared at Today’s Zaman. Click here to go to the original.

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