Putin’s Jets in Syria Are a Threat to the U.S. 

On Sept. 30, Russian lawmakers unanimously approved Pres. Vladimir Putin’s plan to begin combat operations in Syria — and hours later Moscow’s warplanes in the region began attacking ISIS militants.

Right before the bombs rained down, a Russian general arrived in Baghdad warned the U.S. military planners to keep America’s own warplanes out of the way. U.S. officials said they would not alter their flight plans.

This is the beginning of a dangerous new phase of the international intervention in the Syrian civil war. Not only has Russia tried to order U.S. forces to step aside, it actually has the firepower to back up its demands. Some of the 35 warplanes Russia has deployed to Syria are specifically designed for fighting foes like the United States, not ISIS.

Seemingly out of nowhere on Sept. 21, they appeared at an air base in Latakia, a regime stronghold in western Syria—28 of the Russian air force’s best warplanes, including four Su-30 fighters and a number of Su-25 attack planes and Su-24 bombers.

Soon six more Su-34 bombers and at least one Il-20 spy plane followed, part of a contingent of Russia forces reportedly including some 500 troops plus armored vehicles and SA-15 and SA-22 surface-to-air missiles.

For U.S. and allied officials observing the deployment, there has been plenty of cause for confusion…and alarm. It’s not just that, more than four years into Syria’s bloody civil war, Russia has decided to jump in and make things more complicated.

No, it’s what kinds of weapons—planes and missiles, especially—Moscow decided to send, and what those weapons say about the Kremlin’s ultimate plan in Syria. Many of them don’t seem to be well-suited to fighting ISIS. They’re built to battle adversaries like the United States.

To be clear, 35 warplanes and a few surface-to-air missiles aren’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. There’s no shortage of military aircraft flying over Syria five years into the country’s bloody civil war.

Every day some of Syria’s aging Soviet-made planes —from the 300 or so that have survived four years of combat—take off from regime airfields to bomb ISIS militants and secular rebels slowly advancing on Syria’s main population centers.

Meanwhile hundreds of jets from the American-led international coalition have been waging, since the fall of 2014, an intensive air campaign against ISIS and al Qaeda targeting just the militants.

What’s weird and alarming about the Russian contingent is that it’s not really optimal for attacking lightly armed insurgent fighters. Surface-to-air missiles are only good for destroying enemy aircraft, which Syrian rebels do not possess. And the Su-30s are best suited for tangling with other high-tech forces.

Who in region possesses these high-tech forces? The United States, for one. Israel, too. Why, the United States, of course. Russia’s warplanes and missiles in Syria could pose a threat to America’s own aircraft flying over the country—all in order to carve out and preserve a portion of Syria that the United States can’t touch.

Russia’s warplanes and missiles in Syria could pose a threat to America’s own aircraft flying over the country—all in order to carve out and preserve a portion of Syria that the United States can’t touch.

Officially, Russia has deployed its forces to Syria to reinforce embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and help defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

“There is no other way to settle the Syrian conflict other than by strengthening the existing legitimate government agencies, support them in their fight against terrorism,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with American news networks ahead of his Sept. 28 meeting with President Obama at the United Nations in New York City.

“There are more than 2,000 militants in Syria from the former Soviet Union,” Putin said. “Instead of waiting for them to return home we should help President al-Assad fight them there, in Syria.”

Syria crisis: Russian airstrikes against Assad enemies.

Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber (file photo)

Russia has begun carrying out air strikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties.

The US says it was informed an hour before they took place.

Russian defence officials say aircraft targeted the Islamic State group, but an unnamed US official told Reuters that so far they did not appear to be targeting IS-held territory.

Syria’s civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government.

The US and its allies have insisted that President Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed its ally remaining in power.


Russian fighter jets and helicopters at a military base in the government-controlled coastal Syrian city of LatakiaAnalysis: Jonathan Marcus, defence and diplomatic correspondent

Russia’s decision to intervene with its air power greatly complicates the Syrian crisis while probably offering little additional chance of a diplomatic resolution.

Russian sources indicate that Sukhoi Su-24 warplanes were involved, operating out of an airbase near Latakia.

There are serious questions about who exactly the Russian aircraft are targeting. US officials believe that the initial Russian strikes are not in IS-held territory, raising the possibility that Russian air power is being utilised more in the form of close air support for Syrian government forces against the multiple enemies of the Assad regime.

Of course, many of these enemies are supported by the West’s Arab allies or Turkey. The warning time given by the Russians to the Americans announcing the start of their operations may also raise some eyebrows, suggesting that much more detailed co-ordination may be needed in future to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace.


The upper house of the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy the Russian air force in Syria.

The Russian defence ministry said the country’s air force had targeted IS military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel supplies.

Syrian opposition activists said Russian warplanes had hit towns including Zafaraneh, Rastan ands Talbiseh, resulting in the deaths of 36 people, a number of them children.

None of the areas targeted were controlled by IS, activists said.

In a televised address, Mr Putin said the airstrikes were targeting Islamist militants – including Russian citizens – who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.

“If they [militants] succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” he said.

He added that Russia was not going to send ground troops to Syria, and that its role in Syrian army operations would be limited.

“We certainly are not going to plunge head-on into this conflict… we will be supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups.”

Mr Putin also said he expected President Assad to talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but clarified that he was referring to what he described as “healthy” opposition groups.

A US defence official said: “A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-Isil [IS] missions today over Syria. He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”

US state department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy Isil [IS].”

map

Syria’s civil war

Homs city

What’s the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.

And the survivors?

More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes, four million of them abroad, as forces loyal to President Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from IS and other groups. Growing numbers of refugees are going to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Regional and world powers have also been drawn into the conflict. Iran and Russia, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, are propping up the Alawite-led government. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing the Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France.

Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS – The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

President Vladimir V. Putin will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time in 10 years.Vladimir Putin of Russia to Focus on Syria at U.N.SEPT. 27, 2015
News Analysis: On Syria, Putin Is Catering to an Audience at HomeSEPT. 26, 2015
Spanish police officers arrested an 18-year-old Moroccan woman this month who was suspected of recruiting volunteers for ISIS.Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS Despite Global EffortsSEPT. 26, 2015
Syrians in a destroyed section of Douma, east of Damascus. Russia has offered to hold talks with the United States on Syria.Putin Sees Path to Diplomacy Through SyriaSEPT. 16, 2015
It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, met Sunday amid tensions between the countries. Credit Dominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The effort, which Mr. Putin is expected to underscore in his speech at the United Nations on Monday, not only puts Moscow in a position to give military support to Mr. Assad, its longtime ally in the Middle East, but could also enable the Kremlin to influence the choice of a successor if Mr. Assad were to eventually leave power.

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict.

Even as the United States has banked on a diplomatic strategy of trying to enlist Russia’s cooperation in Syria, the Kremlin has continued to jolt the White House with its unilateral military and political moves.

“This is not yet coordinated,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at the start of a meeting in New York with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. “Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow. This is the beginning of a genuine effort to see if there is a way to deconflict, but also to find a way forward that will be effective in keeping a united, secular Syria that can be at peace and stable again without foreign troops present, and that’s our hope.”

 

Robert S. Ford, the former American ambassador to Syria, said that Russian officials have long said they are not wedded to Mr. Assad but have insisted his government is legitimate and rebuffed efforts to impose a successor.

Adding to the United States’ concern, Russian surveillance drones have conducted about half a dozen reconnaissance missions from a recently bolstered base near Latakia. The drones have flown over Latakia, western Idlib, and western Hama, according to a senior United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

American analysts have not detected any Islamic State fighters in those areas, the official said. That raises the prospect that, despite its stated focus of fighting the Islamic State, Russia may take the opportunity to attack Syrian opposition fighters who are focused on battling Mr. Assad’s government and who are also backed by the United States.

Mr. Putin has been dismissive of the Pentagon program to train and equip the moderate Syria opposition — an effort that has yielded only a small handful of fighters. At the same time, new volunteers have been arriving to replenish the ranks of the Islamic State even more quickly than they are killed.

Graphic: ISIS Finances Are Strong
Through it all, the United States and some of its allies have focused on expanding an airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the latest Russian moves in Syria have raised important questions about the American relationship with another crucial ally against the Islamic State: Iraq.

With about 3,500 American advisers, trainers and other military personnel in his country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has cast himself as a vital member of the United States-led coalition to combat the Islamic State.

However, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, which has long been anxious that ousting Mr. Assad might strengthen the Islamic State, has also quietly enabled the Russian military buildup in Syria. While Bulgaria closed its airspace to Russian transport planes headed to Syria at the request of the United States, Iraq has allowed the Russian flights in its airspace.

“We did not violate any of our commitments toward the international community,” Ibrahim al-Jafari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said when he was asked about the Russian flights on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Iraqi military statement said that Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq would “participate in collecting information about ISIS terrorism,” an arrangement it said was important because of concerns that thousands of volunteers who have joined the Islamic State have come from Russia.

American officials sought to play down the significance of the agreement but objected to the Syrian government’s participation in the intelligence sharing.

“We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens,” Col. Steven H. Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the American-led coalition, said.

But some experts say that Iraq’s response to the Russians reflects the fractured nature of decision-making in Baghdad, its attempt to navigate a middle ground between the United States and Iran and that the Iraqi government has a divergent reading of how to deal with Syria.

“Power and authority in Iraq have become increasingly diffused, with various players now exercising unilateral power over the use of force,” said Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad,” Mr. Mardini said. “Iraq is still a fragile state whose leaders are exposed to politics. In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shia one.”

Russian troops in Syria could end up helping Isis, report claims.

The deployment of Russian troops in Syria could end up helping Islamic State as they have been sent to areas where they are most likely to fight other groups opposed to Isis, according to a new report.

The Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report comes ahead of a US-Russian summit meeting at the UN on Monday, when Barack Obama will question Vladimir Putin on the intention behind Russia’s deepening military involvement in Syria, according to US officials.

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani – also in New York for the UN general assembly meeting – rejected suggestions that his country was operating in concert with Russia against Isis. “I do not see a coalition between Iran and Russia on fighting terrorism in Syria,” Rouhani said.

The Rusi report, titled Inherently Unresolved, assesses the global effort to counter the spread of Isis, and warns that Iraq and Syria may not survive as unitary states. It includes a section on Russian aims, particularly those underpinning Putin’s despatch this month of warplanes and troops to Tartus and Latakia in support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian strategic analyst, said there was an air regiment at Latakia with 28 planes, a battalion of motorised infantry and military engineers as well as a marine battalion at the naval base in Tartus.

The deployment, Sutyagin said, “underlines the contradictions of the Kremlin’s policy”, because the troops were in areas where Isis is not present.

“In this way, Russian troops are backing Assad in the fight against groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, which are themselves opposed to Isis. If Russian troops do eventually join combat, therefore, they would also – technically – be assisting Isis,” Sutyagin argued.

Satellite image from last week shows Russian aircraft and ground vehicles at air base in Latakia, Syria

The report says the Russian deployment should not therefore be seen as a change of policy towards fighting Isis directly, but a largely political move designed to save Assad and consolidate Russia’s hold over its naval base at Tartus and its newly built air base in Latakia, while currying favour with the west and the Gulf Arab states who are themselves reluctant to fight Isis on the ground.

“Indeed, the Kremlin may well be hoping that the west will show its appreciation by lifting the sanctions imposed in response to the situation in Ukraine,” Sutyagin said.

The tensions hanging over the Obama-Putin meeting on Monday were highlighted by discord between Washington and Moscow in describing the summit. US officials said it had been requested by Putin. A Russian spokesman insisted it was Obama who asked to meet. The White House said the meeting would address both the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. The Kremlin said Ukraine would only be raised “if there was time”.

Celeste Wallander, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Russia, said that Obama would press Putin on his objectives in Syria. Putin meanwhile told CBS News: “There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform.”

The White House argues that the Russian strategy of entrenching Assad will only serve to deepen the roots of extremism in Syria. Ben Rhodes, a White House spokesman, said that at the UN meeting “the president will have the opportunity to make clear to President Putin that we share the determination to counter Isil [Isis], that we welcome constructive contributions to counter Isil. But at the same time, we believe that one of the principal motivating factors for people who are fighting with Isil is the Assad regime.”

The Rusi report said that it would be “perfectly feasible” to defeat Isis if Turkey and Iran were also engaged in the search for a regional solution. It advised US policymakers to “not give up on the possibility of maintaining the unity of Iraq and Syria, but not be beholden or obsessed with this idea either”.

“If the US could ‘father’ two brand-new states in the Balkans during the 1990s, there is no reason why Washington should not tolerate at least the informal emergence of new states in the Middle East,” the report argued.

 

Russia preparing airstrikes on Isil if US does not back deal to keep Assad in office.

Russia sends dozens of fighter jets and helicopter gunships to Syria amid growing signs that Western leaders may support plan to allow Bashar al-Assad to remain in power in the country

An Mi-8 helicopter participates in Russian strategic military exercises last week

An Mi-8 helicopter participates in Russian strategic military exercises last week  Photo: Barcroft Media

Vladimir Putin is preparing to attack Isil in Syria amid growing signs that Western leaders may support a Russian plan to allow Bashar al-Assad to remain in power in the country.

Russia has sent dozens of fighter jets and helicopter gunships to Syria as he steps up his support for Assad, the country’s president, in the fight against Isil jihadists.

Mr Putin is understood to have told America that he is prepared to authorise unilateral Russian air strikes on Isil targets if the US does not back his plans to take on the jihadists while allowing Assad to remain in power.

Putin and Assad meeting in Moscow, 2005Putin and Assad meeting in Moscow, 2005

There have been growing signs that Western leaders are now softening their opposition to Assad remaining in power.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said on Thursday: “We have to speak with many actors. This includes Assad, but others as well.

“Not only with the United States of America, Russia, but with important regional partners, Iran, and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia.”

And Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, who has been a fierce critic of Assad, on Thurday suggested for the first time that the Syrian president could have a role to play in a future political transition.

“The process could possibly be without Assad, or the transitional process could be with him,” he said.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, and John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, have suggested that Assad must step down but that there could be a transitional period during which he remains in power.

However, there was also concern amongst European leaders about Russia’s decision to increase its military presence in Syria.

Mr Putin has drafted a request for the Russian upper house of parliament to approve the deployment of 2,000 air personnel to Syria, but has yet to formally submit it, according to Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources.

Mr Putin’s spokesman denied the claim.

Michael Fallon, Britain’s Defence Secretary, said that the “Russian build-up in Syria only complicates an already complicated and difficult situation”.

And Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister, called on Moscow to justify a “very significant” buildup in Syria and said if its intention was “to protect” Mr Assad, it should say so.

Russia’s increasing involvement in Syria is likely to dominate next week’s session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where Mr Putin is scheduled to meet Barack Obama on Monday.

Obama meets with Putin during the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, 2013Obama meets with Putin during the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, 2013

“It would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement,” a US official told AFP.

Russia has called on Western and Middle Eastern countries to form a broad anti-Isil coalition including Mr Assad’s government, arguing that Syrian government forces are the only ones capable of combatting terrorists on the battlefield.

Mr Putin is a staunch ally of Mr Assad and has supplied him with weapons and military advice throughout the four-year civil war.

But a recent increase in Russian activity in Syria, including reported deployment of drones and combat aircraft to an airbase near the government stronghold of Latakia, has prompted speculation that Russia is preparing to intervene on the regime’s side in the conflict.

The developments have raised concerns about the dangers of uncoordinated operations by both Russian forces and the Nato-led coalition currently prosecuting a campaign against Islamic State.

Earlier this week Mr Putin met with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to agree to a coordination mechanism to avoid clashes between Russian troops in Syria and Israeli forces.

The Russian defence ministry said the naval exercises announced on Thursday had been planned since the end of 2014, and described them as part of the “traditional” autumn exercises carried out by the Russian armed forces.

The rocket cruise Moskva, destroyer Smetlivy, and the landing craft Saratov are amongst the vessels slated to take part in exercises in September and October, the ministry said in a statement.

The Moskva guided missile cruiserThe Moskva guided missile cruiser

Several of the vessels, most of which serve with Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, have already been deployed to the area. The Smetlivy was seen passing through the Bosporus last week.

CROATIA is sending cattle cars stuffed to the rafters with herds of Muslim invaders to the best EU welfare states

Is it too early to give Europe its last rites yet?

After getting shut out of Hungary, thousands of Muslim freeloaders are going through Croatia on their way to only the most generous EU welfare states like Germany and Austria. Many will also try to get to the UK.

 

Syrian regime air strikes kill 38 IS fighters: monitor – 8 Hours Ago

Beirut (AFP) – At least 38 Islamic State group fighters were killed in airstrikes by the Damascus regime against three jihadist-held towns in central Syria, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Monday’s strikes hit Palmyra and two other towns in Homs province, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The Syrian air force has been increasing its strikes against IS in recent days as it received reinforcements from Russia, he said.

“The number of raids is growing and the strikes are more precise after the Syrian air force received arms and more efficient planes from Moscow,” said Abdel Rahman, whose group relies on broad network of civilian, military and medical sources inside Syria.

Experts close to the regime have told AFP that Russia has sent advisers to train Syrian troops in the new weapons, in particular short-range air defence systems and tanks.

US military officials told AFP on Monday that Russia had deployed 28 combat planes in Syria, in the latest move in Moscow’s increasing military presence in the war-torn country.

Washington in recent weeks has expressed growing concern over Russia’s moves to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and warned that military backing for his regime risks further hampering efforts at bringing peace.

Moscow has been on a diplomatic push to get the coalition of Western and regional powers fighting IS in Syria to join forces with Assad against the jihadists.