Putin's miscalculation in Syria

Putin's miscalculation in Syria
Comment: Putin's adventure in Syria will end up costing Russia more trouble than it's worth, argues Marwan Qabalan.
4 min read
07 Oct, 2015
Putin is providing IS with means of survival, writes Kabalan [Anadolu]
I don't know if US Senator John McCain needed to remind us of the traits of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or how he came to rule a major power such as Russia.

But in a Senate meeting that coincided with the start of the Russian bombing campaign in Syria, MacCain described Putin as a "rogue dictator," a "thug and a bully" - yet these descriptions do not only apply to Putin.

If we were to be accurate, those who stood by to watch the killing of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and the displacement of millions over the past five years while they could have done something are also deserving of these descriptions.
     McCain described Putin as a 'rogue dictator' a 'thug and a bully'

Washington's silence with regards to the crimes against the Syrian people is no less morally reprehensible than Putin's current support for those crimes.

Despite that, however, it seems that many people have forgotten Putin's history and how he came to power, and perhaps some even cheered for him as he attempted to challenge US hegemony in the post-11 September period.

Putin started his presidency in 1999 with launching the Second Chechen war and within six months decimated Grozny, securing his place at the helm of Russia.

Today Putin is employing the same mentality in Syria to achieve a number of objectives at home, especially since western sanctions and a loss of oil revenues have affected his popularity.

However, the latest polls suggest that Putin enjoyed an 86 percent popularity rating right after Russian warplanes began their campaign in Syria, which the Kremlin has marketed to the Russian public as preemptive strikes against Islamic extremism, which they say will only come back to target Russia "as it has done in the past".

The Kremlin paved the ground for its war in Syria by publishing estimates by the Security Council of the Russian Federation, stating that more than 2,400 citizens of Russia's Muslim-majority provinces are currently fighting alongside the Islamic State group.

However, with the start of the airstrikes, it soon became clear that the Russians had not come to Syria to fight IS but to achieve a number objectives - including preventing the Syrian regime from collapse and helping it regain a number of strategic areas it had lost, especially in northwest Syria and around the capital, Damascus.

It has been postulated that the Russians have recently taken over operational command in Jurin, northern Syria, from the Iranians - and that they are laying plans to retake Jisr al-Shughur, in addition to taking over operations in Jobar from Hizballah with plans to retake the northern highway towards Homs.

     A ground intervention would necessarily mean bodies of Russian soldiers being repatriated home

However, implementing these plans will require more than airstrikes; the Americans have been conducting airstrikes against IS for more than a year with little affect, and the Syrian regime airstrikes have not been able to stop the advance of rebels.

Thus, Russia will have to deploy ground troops if it wants to achieve any real results, and there are semi-confirmed reports that Russian Special Forces are getting ready to take part in operations in al-Ghab plain, northwest Syria.

This would mean that Putin who is publically cautious about being embroiled in a ground intervention is actually taking increasing risks that might seriously backfire.

A ground intervention would necessarily mean bodies of Russian soldiers being repatriated, and in turn public opinion, which Putin seems to care about so much, may well turn against him.

Furthermore, Russia's intervention not only threatens to alienate the Syrian people - who will now view Moscow as an enemy - but the Arab and wider Islamic world will turn against Russia, as during the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

While Putin claims his intervention is to eliminate the IS group, he is actually providing all the means of the group's survival, as thousands of young Muslims men will now start making their way to Syria to "wage jihad" against Russia - including many Russians.

Despite Washington's objections and public protests, it seems that the US is quite happy to stand by and watch Russia take on the IS group and slowly drown in the Syrian quagmire, which will only weaken and further alienate Putin's Russia.

Finally, by deciding to take part in military operations in support of the Syrian regime, Russia can no longer play the role of mediator in the Syrian crisis, as it has become an enemy of the Syrian revolution.

In any case, there is no longer any need for mediation because the Russian military intervention has completely destroyed and buried the Geneva talks.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.