Thursday, October 15, 2015


With the Russian military action in Syria the game has changed. What is Putin up to, and will he be successful? The internal conflict in Syria is just one part of the equation. There's a regional conflict raging between Sunnis and Shias, but there are also global tensions between Russia, the US and their proxies. And what about IS and Nusra? 

UPDATE: If the report about the Cuban involvement is true, about half the former Eastern bloc is back in action in the region. Information surfaced today that IS is mobilizing the male population over the age of 14 under its control. According to reports, the Russians have killed 150 of Obama "moderate" Syrian rebels. Only last Monday they announced a new coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made up of #YPG#FSA#MSF and a few other rebel groups (tweet). Not against ISIS, but against Assad, Russia and Iran. Read also Yaroslav Trofimov @yarotrof excellent analysis  (tweet).


What's going in Syria? The game is fundamentally changing, so much is sure. The Russians are notorious practitioners of misinformation and propaganda. But since Obama is leading the West, US information is also not as reliable as it once was. Nevertheless, a few facts can be ascertained. But it's getting increasingly complicated 

Iran and Hezbollah sent several thousands of ground forces to Assad controlled Syria in the western part of the country. They may be establishing a buffer zone, in case Russia will not succeed in keeping Syria together. A comprehensive solution seems to be Putin's goal. There are reports that Moscow has reactivated its contacts with moderate opposition figures. Russia is moving  along specific lines.
  • The formation of a transitional government of moderate opposition (any group willing to accept the Russian initiative) and the Assad regime. 
  • A cease fire around Aleppo and in some other hot spots in parallel with the UN conference.
  • A deal in the proposed Geneva-3 with some groups of Syria’s opposition. (The alternative to Geneva-3 would be talks hosted by Putin in the Russian capital).
  • Negotiations with opposition groups on the basis that Assad intends to leave Damascus, either conditional on holding elections or as a concession in order to 'save the country'. 
  • Demanding participation in the transitional government and a declaration by the opposition, that the crisis is over and that it is time to cleanse Syria of all terrorists. 
This plan will make Putin appear the champion of the world, using both the war track and the political track. Obama is left with egg on his face. The role of the US has become irrelevant. But Putin has a backup plan: the Syrian army backed by some 10,000 Iranian and Iraqi Shia soldiers and Hezbollah fighters, the Assad militias and Russia’s air force will start a war of multiple phases to end the armed opposition's existence and force the population into submission.

To the West the 'moderate' opposition, is any group that isn't IS. But who is 'moderate' according to the Russians? Generally any group that accepts their political initiative. Those who are opposed to Assad, are called on to join the coalition on the basis that Assad is leaving. If you want Sharia or if your cause is dictated by countries other than Syria, you're a radical and deserve to be bombed.

The timing of Assad’s departure is left undetermined. But President Putin hinted to Erdogan in unambiguous terms that a deal will definitely include the departure of Assad at a point to be agreed upon, and that if things go as planned he personally guarantees the departure of Assad.

General Nikolai Bogdanovsky met October 6 with Israel's General Yair Golan about arms supplies to Hezbollah through Syria, and Israel's capability to attack Hezbollah arms in Syria. Israel got assurances that no attacks will be allowed against Israel from Syria while the Russians are there.

A refusal of the Russian initiative by any party, Syrian or non-Syrian, will be presented as a manifestation of the existence of a hidden agenda. If the agenda is Jihadist, the world will side with Putin. If they are strategic, for example anti Iranian, the Syrians will be told that the perpetrator is trying to achieve his own goals at the expense of Syria; and that they should back the transitional government.

Putin has already achieved the minimum of his objectives through stationing his forces in the west of Syria. But 55 prominent Saudi religious scholars issued a communique on October 4 condemning both Russia and the US. The communique called for all Syrians to fight, a veiled invitation for mobilization is implied in the language. The first paragraph of the communique was a plea for the unification of all opposition groups under the flag of Jihad.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria issued a separate communique calling Jihad in Syria an Islamic duty for all Muslim adults. Many leaders of Islamic groups said the same. The impact of these important statements is related to the Syrian opposition. Impact will come in the form of a mobilization of Islamists on the ground in Saudi Arabia and other countries to join the Holy War against the new Crusaders.

The unwise declaration of Russia's Church that the military effort in Syria is a Holy War is widely echoed in the Islamic world. The Orthodox Church was trying to garner public support to Putin's otherwise unpopular decision to go to Syria.

In the meantime, Arab countries and Turkey are arming themselves with anti air craft and anti armor weapon systems. The Obama administration made itself too irrelevant to be able to have any final say about this plan. Putin will minimize the US ability to shape anything in the crisis.

A specific narrative is emerging among opposition groups. The argument says that Russia considers all Islamic groups, even those that have never got involved in terrorism, as terrorists. They believe that Russia's real intentions are anti Islamic per se, and have nothing to do with IS. As proof they're citing the examples of Moscow's attacks against non IS opposition.

Furthermore, Iranian presence on Syrian territories, is not rejected only by the Arab backers of the opposition, but also by the vast majority of Syrians who suffered at the hands of Iranians, Hezbollah and Assad forces.

That part of the opposition is determined to carry on their fight against Assad, Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians. And if recent reports are true, also the Cubans and the Chinese. The regional backers of these groups seem to be determined as well to carry on, regardless of Moscow's political games. A chain of meetings took place last week in regional capitals and ended with a decision to go ahead and fight.

The position is defined by two specific dimension: the Syrian political-military stalemate and the regional conflict between the Arabs and the Iranians. Putin is using the Syrian conflict in order to preserve and deepen the division between Sunnis and Shias.

The manner in which the Russians will deal with the Syrian dimension of the crisis will definitely lead to the radicalization of the opposition. The problem of Russia's approach is that it does not deal with the real essence of the crisis. The possibility is very likely that Russia will bleed in Syria. Badly. (Source)