The Kremlin will need a quick result if it is to satisfy the Russian publicby Andrew Wood / October 2, 2015 / Leave a comment
The purpose of Russia’s direct military intervention in Syria is clear and driven by tactical considerations. It is also impractical.
President Putin has made it clear from the outset that he is committed to President Assad’s continued rule in Damascus, and repeated as much during his recent address to the United Nations General Assembly. Russia’s Federal Council gave him its unanimous agreement to use force, at his request and as a sign of Russia’s determination to combat terrorism in Syria. Action followed immediately, with scant warning to Western and Middle Eastern forces operating in the theatre, and with only the most cursory consideration as to what Russia and others might consider to be “terrorist forces.” Russian actions show clearly—and unsurprisingly—that all opponents of the Assad regime are terrorists for Putin, with Islamic State low on the present target list.
The decision to use the forces that Russia has built up in Syria was rooted in the need, as Moscow saw it, to promptly counter the erosion of territory still under Assad’s control and, as soon as it might become possible, to extend it. Russian intervention was also supposed to force the United States, in particular, to acknowledge Moscow’s right to have a major say in the area, and to expose the uncertainty inherent in the coalition’s policies of fighting ISIS while also supporting non-ISIS resistance to the Assad regime. It has also been proposed that Moscow hopes to somehow leverage action in Syria, either to disguise a partial climb-down over Ukraine or to persuade the West that it needs to tone down its resistance to Moscow’s pressure on Kiev, though the latter idea seems far-fetched.
The Kremlin will need a quick result if it is to both achieve these purposes and satisfy the Russian public. A swift and effective intervention that showed that Moscow can act independently (even, arguably, in defiance) of the United States, and that it can do so without endangering its armed forces would be a domestic bonus. But the sort of bombardment that is typical of…