By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
The puzzle of Russian intentions in Syria will likely be revealed by president Vladimir Putin at the UN next week. Putin will meet US president Barack Obama on Monday and will address the UN. In the meantime, there are signs that Russian arms supplies to the Bashar al-Assad regime are beginning to make an impact in the fighting.
The Arabic press is reporting that the regime of Bashar al-Assad is flying Russian fighter jets recently delivered by Moscow to Syria against positions of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in eastern Aleppo province, where a Syrian airbase is under siege by the extremist fighters.
At the same time, the Damascus regime for the first time has flown drones against the extremist groups.
Syrian ambassador to Russia Riyadh Haddad said that so far, the only troops fighting Daesh on the ground in Syria are those of the Syrian Arab Army (i.e. the Baath regime of Bashar al-Assad). But, he added, if it became necessary, Russia would send its own troops into the fight.
Vladimir Gundarov writes in Defense and Security, according to BBC Monitoring, on the question of whether there are Russian forces in Syria:
“Yes, there are Russian units, Russian weapons, and Russian military hardware in Syria.
There is the 720th Sustainment Center in Tartus, and it is not exactly manned by Martians. There are Russian ships in the Mediterranean that have to be manned as well. There may even be a Russian submarine there. Interfax new agency quoted its Western sources as saying in the first half of September that five large amphibious ships loaded with military hardware were sailing from Russia to Syria.
Foreign media outlets already reported these Russian ship’s participation in what they called Operation Syrian Express aimed to supply the Syrian regular army. This latter was using Russian weapons in the war with terrorists, according to Reuters. This news agency appraised Russian weapons as precise and effective.”
After an initial wave of near-hysteria over the Russian moves in Syria (so far miniscule), the United States seems to be getting more used to the idea. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is admitting that there could be areas of shared interests for Russia and the US in Syria (e.g. against Daesh). Likewise, the US now seems willing to negotiate with al-Assad.