Germany seeks Talks with Russia over Syria as Putin conducts Naval Maneuvers off Tartous

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Agence France Press Arabic says that Cypriot officials are reporting that Russia has asked them to alter airline routes this coming week because it is planning naval military maneuvers off the Syrian coast near its leased naval base, Tartous.

The maneuvers are called “routine” by Moscow but come at a time of heightened American, European and Israeli concern about increased Russian military backing and aid for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Another Arabic news agency writes that the maneuvers will involve the firing of missiles.

There are also reports that Russia is preparing to send a new anti-aircraft system to Syria, the SA-22, which will be operated by Russian troops.

The necessity of such new weapons deliveries and Russian reinforcements has suggested to some, including President Obama, that Russia’s previous strategy in Syria is failing.

The developments come on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, to be attended by Russian president Vladimir Putin for the first time in many years. There is speculation that there may be some diplomacy over the Syria issue at the UNGA.

The German government says it fears that Russia is doubling down on a military strategy to win in Syria, which cannot possibly succeed. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote in the NYT this week:

“It would be folly to continue betting on a military solution . . . Now is the time to find a way to bring the parties to the negotiating table. This must include preparatory talks with and among crucial regional actors like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, but also Iran.”

Steinmeier had hoped that the UNSC nuclear deal with Iran would open the door to negotiations about Syria as well but fears that opportunity is receding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday that while Germany needs to work with the US to resolve the Syrian crisis, it likewise needs to work with Russia.

Because of their generous welcome of Syrian asylum seekers, German officials appear to be alarmed at the prospect that Russian aid to the Baath regime in Syria will detract from its willingness to negotiate with the rebels and so will prolong the civil war, lengthening the refugee crisis as well.

Among those worried about a Russian build-up in Syria are the Israelis. Here is Yediot Aharanot via BBC Monitoring:

“While the USA has restricted its military involvement in Syria to aerial activities Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has confirmed that Moscow has been sending military equipment and not just humanitarian assistance. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper said on 10 September that Moscow is supplying the Syrian army with small arms, grenade launchers, advanced BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers and Kamaz military trucks.

“A senior security source revealed yesterday that in addition to the Russian army forces coming to fight alongside Asad, Iran also has begun implementing its part of the deal. In the first stage a few hundred regular fighters of the Revolutionary Guard arrived in Syria to fight alongside Hezbollah against the rebels in the military camps area at Zabadani… The Russians and the Iranians claim that their military involvement in Syria is part of the effort to check ISIS. But the Russian army efforts in coordination with the Iranian Al-Quds force go much further and are directed in two channels. First, gathering the disintegrating Syrian units, arming them and putting them in training regime with the assistance of Russian and Iranian military advisers to enable them to fight effectively… Second, Russian aerial forces that would replace the Syrian air force and assist Asad’s land forces… While the Americans are content with talk and symbolic aerial activities, the Russians and the Iranians have decided to act and preserve by force their interests in the Middle East…” [From commentary by Alex Fishman in centrist, mass circulation Yediot Aharonot]”

Both Germany and Israel appear worried that the Obama administration is not serious about ending the Syrian fighting.

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Related video:

AJ+: “How Involved Is Russia In Syria?”

12 Responses

  1. Frankly, any discussion anywhere involving the great powers in in the ongoing multi-dimensional disaster that is the Syrian civil war, is to be welcomed.

    Involve Turkey, involve Iran, Oman has been doing good work as a diplomatic “entrepot.” Talk about Lebanon if needed, talk about Yemen too. German Minister Steinmeier sounds like an adult in a room full of children.

  2. After years of NATO attempts to encircle Russia and US attempts to penetrate Central Asia, turnabout is fair play. Presenting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, jockeying for power in full view of white people with money.

  3. Don’t think Russia or the US really care about Assad. It’s more a battle over the seaport. Russia will not easily let go of it’s only access to the mediterranean sea.

    The West startet to throw weapons and money to the dubious syrian opposition because foremost the US politicians saw the uprising as a golden opportunity to weaken both Russia and Iran. So this is strictly a geoplolitical powerplay fought with the lifes of other people.
    The fact, that shortly after the uprising started members of this ‘syrian opposition’ were flown to Berlin in order to participate in ‘simulations’ to prepare them for the day after Assads defeat only shows how deluded western politicians were.

    It might have been possible to pressure Assad to stop cracking down on protesters, but that never was the goal. From the beginning it was: Assad has to go!
    Unacceptable not just for the dictator himself, but also for the sizable number of Syrians who support him and are afraid that a change in power would lead to a crackdown on them.
    Only now, that europe feels some negative consequences from this disaster are some european politicians beginning to speak up. Should have done that earlier…

  4. ‘Russia is doubling down on a military strategy to win in Syria, which cannot possibly succeed’

    Russia’s increased aid to its Syrian ally is clearly a response to the fact that ‘the Obama administration is not serious about ending the Syrian fighting.’

    Obama’s foot soldiers are murderous, crackpot, Stone-Age takfiris. Can one seriously argue that Putin and/or Assad are the greater evil?

  5. The real problem is that Mr. Putin is in a Ronald Reagan / Donald Trump frame of mind: “Make Russia Great Again” is written on Mr. Putin’s baseball hats.

    President Obama, however, faces a problem similar to that which faced Great Britain in the late 1930s: a military strong enough to confront one powerful foe – but not two, widely separated foes. For Great Britain, it was Germany and Japan – confronting German expansion meant leaving Singapore, Australia, and India vulnerable – and confronting Japan meant giving Germany an opening to expand in Europe. At the time, there wasn’t much taste in Great Britain to expand the military after the financial and human costs of World War 1.

    Today, the US has a powerful military – but not powerful enough to oppose both Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and also Russian expansion in Ukraine and Syria… especially if Iran gets involved. A US – Iranian confrontation would make Iraq a very messy place.

    And so, insertion of Russian troops into Syria to strengthen its bargaining position has little downside for Mr. Putin: he can tell his people that “Russia Is Back”, confront the US and declare victory.

    President Obama faces a much tougher challenge: George W Bush’s Iraq Adventure cut off our ability to criticize others for doing whatever the heck they want based on their military force capabilities. The Bush Administration’s treatment of Russia and China drove them into a cooperative stance – and it would be naive to think that China wouldn’t take advantage of a US – Russian confrontation in Syria to further consolidate its holdings in the South China Sea. So, President Obama must tread a delicate path.

    Meanwhile, the Republicans want to imitate Mr. Putin and “Make America Great.” This brings back memories of the way World War 1 started. Fun times!

  6. If the Russians are sending their very best AA missile system to Syria then it ain’t the rebels that they are taking aim at, seein’ as how the Rebel Airforce doesn’t actually exist.

    Well, it does, but it goes by the name “IDF”.

  7. Russia appears to be doing for the Syrian regime much what the US is doing for the rebels, and what they both ostensibly seek against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. It is highly unlikely Russia would get involved at an invasion level any more than the US and for the same reasons, it would cause domestic political chaos; the Russian people wouldn’t like it anymore than the Americans. It’s a No, No.

  8. OMG, and Hillary throwing logs on the fire:
    “A Scary Fantasyland

    As scary as these dangers are, there remains a huge gap between the real world of the Middle East and the fantasyland that is Official Washington’s perception of the region. In that land of make-believe, what matters is tough talk from ambitious politicians and opinion leaders, what I call the “er-er-er” growling approach to geopolitics.

    Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton joined in that growling on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, which has become home to neocons such as Robert Kagan and a host of “liberal interventionists,” such as Michael O’Hanlon and Strobe Talbott.

    Though she formally endorsed the nuclear agreement with Iran, former Secretary of State Clinton insulted both the Iranians and the Russians. Noting Russia’s support for the Syrian government, she urged increased punishment of Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin — aimed at forcing Russia to abandon the Assad regime.

    “We need a concerted effort to up the costs on Russia and Putin; I am in the camp that we have not done enough,” Clinton declared. “I don’t think we can dance around it much longer,” she said, claiming that Russia is trying to “stymie and undermine American power whenever and wherever they can.”

    Clinton appears to have learned nothing from her past support for “regime change” strategies in Iraq and Libya. In both countries, the U.S. military engineered the ouster and murder of the nations’ top leaders, but instead of the promised flourishing of some ideal democracies, the countries descended into anarchy with Sunni terrorists, linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, now controlling large swaths of territory and engaging in widespread atrocities.

    Yet, for Clinton, the higher priority is to come across as super-tough, proving her value to Official Washington’s influential neocons and liberal hawks. Thus, a potential Clinton presidency suggests an even more warlike foreign policy than the one carried out by Obama, who recently boasted of ordering military strikes in seven different countries.”

    • Hillary is trapped by US domestic politics as she tries to get elected president. The Republicans will scream “Soft on Defense, Soft on Terror” no matter what she says. Any hint of compromise will be loudly condemned.

      She needs to say these things now so she can point out later how tough and badass she is. Americans love that.

      They love shiny new wars too, but quickly get bored with them. They support the troops as long as the only sacrifice is slapping a yellow ribbon on the SUV. HooRah!

  9. This is an excellent move by the Russians which will inevitably make everyone else to be more serious. In the long run it will also serve as a good lesson to those countries that believe they can destabilize other governments with impunity.

  10. I can’t believe the Russians think Assad is sustainable. My guess is this is the first step in a Russian-Iranian effort (with full US backing) of providing Assad with a nice retirement home while ensuring a place at the table for the Allawites in a future multi-sectarian Syria.

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