Russia’s Syrian Gambit


Blog No. 57.



For the spectators in Rome’s Colosseum, the most thrilling gladiatorial contests were between opponents asymmetrically armed. The heavily armoured warrior with sword and shield v. an unprotected, but much more agile, opponent armed with trident and net. Click: Gladiators

In a far larger global arena, we are currently witness to an equally deadly struggle between asymmetrically equipped opponents. Russia, with its chess-playing tradition is now faced off most publically against the USA with its poker-playing tradition. Chess players plan several moves ahead: poker players deal cunningly with whatever cards come to hand – and rely on reserves of cash to see them through the game until their opponent is forced to capitulate.

Western commentators have advanced multiple reasons for the Russian intervention in Syria, and there is probably an element of truth in most of them. It is only the most obvious reason that seems largely ignored. Russia’s deployment of air-power should be viewed as a pre-emptive strike made in self-defence. After the recent coups and attempted coups in Georgia and the Ukraine, Russians are only too well aware of the USA’s on-going endeavours to destroy their economy and destabilise their government.

Russia has long supported the Assad regime as a secular bulwark against Saudi Arabia’s highly contagious Islamic fundamentalism in the south. Russia now has a genuine fear that should they prove victorious in Syria, the armies of Islamic terrorists being nurtured by the NATO powers and their UAE and Saudi allies in Syria, Turkey and Northern Iraq, could then be used to destabilise Russia’s Moslem citizens and allied states within the Eurasian Economic Community.

After Saudi Arabia, supported by the USA, used Pakistan as a safe base from which to raise a successful Islamist revolt against the Red Army’s support for the secular regime in Kabul, the CIA appears to have realised it was onto a good wheeze. Click: Operation Cyclone. The last Russian troops withdrew from Afghanistan with their tails between their legs in 1989. Shortly thereafter the Soviet Union was dissolved. There are multiple reports (which certainly, Putin fully believes) that the CIA then went on, in the early 1990s, to use Saudi Arabian cash and preachers of Islamist propaganda to destabilise Chechnya and instigate the ethnic cleansing of non-Chechens from that country. This process ultimately resulted in multiple terrorist attacks across Russia and the two brutal Russian wars against secessionist Chechen Islamists. Click: Chechnya and others.

chechnyaProbably more alarming to Russia than possible trouble in Chechnya, is the internal situation on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea among its allied ‘Stans,’ all of which are vulnerable to Islamist destabilisation Click: Destabilise the Stans. This is a long article, but it gives very good reason why both Russia and China should be exceedingly worried about an American backed pro-Islamist outcome to the Syrian civil war. Initial reports of Russian bombing missions in northern Syria indicate that Chechen Islamists based in Turkmen villages have been among the prime targets. Having got so many rats in the barrel, the Russians clearly plan to eliminate as many as possible.

The potential for the destabilisation of the Stans, following the, what has long appeared, inevitable Taliban victory in Afghanistan, is a matter of acute concern to China. The Chinese government, is facing a growing (and surreptitiously encouraged through alleged CIA/National Endowment for Democracy involvement) terrorist movement among its Moslem Uyghurs. These are directly connected through a short common frontier and a long and narrow spit of land, to the Afghani insurrection. Click: Uyghur insurrection.

china border map
Afghanistan/Chinese border
China’s Uyghurs








On October 2nd an Israeli and a Serbian source both reported that China had (I won’t believe it until I see the photos!) taken the extraordinary step of announcing that it was going to shortly join Russia in its aerial assault on Syrian rebel forces. Click: China joins Syrian battle. The fact that such rumours are going the rounds in the blogosphere indicates awareness of how seriously China views the possibility of future deployment of successful Syrian rebels to destabilise China’s westernmost Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

How has the combat gone so far? The chess-player bided his time as the poker-player, with no long term planning, became ever more conflicted in the hand he was playing.

Using the trick it learnt in Afghanistan to combine Saudi theology and cash with American weaponry and training, the USA attempted the overthrow of Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria. The probable motivation was to enable a pipeline containing Qatari gas to enter the EU, thereby displacing a major source of Russia’s foreign exchange. Documents made public by Wikileaks indicate that US State Department planning for this destabilisation of the Syrian regime began at least as early as 2006. The Wikileaks reveal an American administration, which, though already fully aware of the murderous chaos and suffering being caused in Iraq by their divide and rule policy of setting one Moslem sect at the throats of another, quite consciously decided to set about using an identical strategy to destabilise the secular, multi-denominational, Syrian government.

However (and who could possibly have anticipated such a thing?) one of the USA’s protégés, ISIS, went rogue and dramatically overplayed its hand with its extreme brutality, beheading of American citizens and an unscripted invasion of Iraq (mounted on Toyota 4WDs, supplied to the ‘moderates’ by the US State Department and others US co-conspirators.) Its extreme brutality made any tolerance of, or support for ISIS, an untenable position for any western politician to hold. Consequently, the USA and its Turkish and Saudi/UAE allies were forced, at least publicly, to abandon the now untouchable ISIS. If the aim of Syrian regime change was to be maintained, the remaining al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups had to be dressed up as “moderates,” who could continue to be supported in their assaults on the Syrian government without raising too many protests from western electorates.

Unfortunately, the only effective opponents of ISIS were the Syrian regime, which the US and allies were intend on overthrowing, the Kurds, whom the NATO member, Turks were intent on destroying and the Iranians, whom the American allied Saudis and the Israelis were intent on destroying. No wonder the USA appeared less than serious in its attempt to eradicate the Islamic State.

The sundry nations, including NZ, who have come to assist Iraq in its fight against ISIS, have done so at the request of the legitimate Iraqi government in Baghdad. The Turks, despite their loud wailing over accidental Russian intrusions into their airspace, are continuing with their aerial attacks on Kurdish positions in northern Iraq and despite official Iraqi protests Click: Iraqi protests They have no legal basis for their actions. With the exception of Russia, which is there at the official invitation of the legitimate Syrian government, all other parties, such as the USA, Turkey, UK, France and Australia, which are sending Special Forces into and/or bombing Syria, are acting in breach of international law. It now looks highly probable that Baghdad will invite the Russians to use its airspace alongside the assistance it has requested from the US and other allies. Russia no doubt will oblige and the chances of success in the campaign against ISIS will be greatly increased.

Putin waited until the world leaders gathered for the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, before making his plea for the world to return to the rule of international law and announcing proactive steps to reduce the chaos that western policies had created in the Middle East. Click: Putin’s speech.

The pieces on the board were all where he wanted them. Saudi Arabia was distracted by the lunacy it had initiated in Yemen; Turkey was distracted by up-coming elections in which the aggressively anti-Assad Erdogan was going to struggle to survive; the Iranians had made their peace with the West, were about to be relieved of their sanctions and were now better placed to help Putin in his mission; the Kurds would welcome any new entrant prepared to clip Turkish wings; the Iraqi government in Baghdad had abandoned hope that the USA and its coalition were going to take serious action against ISIS and would therefore eagerly cooperate with anyone who might; Israel was preoccupied with the first stirrings of a third Intifada and finally, the USA having assured its public that it was going to destroy ISIS and having made no noticeable progress in its attempts to do so, was not in a position to argue that someone else, who appeared willing and able, should not take effective steps to rid the world of this abomination.

Putin then put in place concrete measures to remedy the Syrian situation. It is yet to be seen whether his, what was a courageous move, will succeed. However, all reports indicate that the Russian air offensive is far more intensive and effective than the half-hearted and conflicted US operation. In contrast to their understanding of the USA’s muddled motivation, the Iraqi, Syrian, Kurdish, Iranian and Hezbollah ground forces all trust the Russians not to have a hidden agenda hostile to their own interests. (Who would want to be a Syrian army soldier operating under USAF air-cover!?)

Under Russian air support, the forces, opposed to al Qaeda and IS, will have confidence and now be able to conduct offensive ground operations. It should not be long before we see Sunni Islamists adding themselves to the refugee flows exiting Syria. As the only country confronting ISIS, which, while conforming to international law, is clearly attempting to address western public demands for a solution to both the ISIS and refugee problems, Russia’s international status is likely to improve. Western propaganda efforts to diminish Putin’s international standing will receive a significant set-back – making it that much more difficult for NATO’s offensive in Eastern Europe. As only Russian jets and missiles can operate with legitimacy over Syrian airspace, the idea of others NATO members, such as Turkey or the USA, attempting to impose no-fly zones to prevent the Syrian government using its own aircraft against its internal enemies, is now dead.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Bashir al Assad

With Russia’s current commitment of forces and the renewed confidence of the anti-Islamist ground forces, it is now certain that Bashir al Assad’s regime will survive until such time as the warring parties can be brought together and a political solution worked out. That solution will almost certainly require a significant re-drawing of Middle Eastern frontiers – but that will be the subject of another and somewhat distant blog.

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