While the build up of Russian military forces in Syria has hardly been unexpected or a surprise, as it is a repeat of what happened in the summer of 2013 when in response to foreign provocations the Assad regime was once again on the edge of collapse and only Russian intervention prevented the fall of Syria to 'western' forces, the question has emerged in the past week: just how much of the military build up is real and verifiable, and how much is a function of the western media euphoria now intent on scapegoating the upcoming land invasion into Syria by US-supported al Nusra (and ISIS) forces as a retaliation for Russian military build up which in itself is a reaction to the now-confirmed western strategy to oust Assad.
In many this is a mirror image of the recent debate: is Russia retaliation to the NATO build up on its borders, or is NATO amassing forces on the Russian border to deter Russian expansion. The answer naturally depends on one's bias and no amount of proof or factual evidence can sway opinion one way or another.
The latest report from Reuters is precisely such an example: in it we read that "Russia has positioned about a half dozen tanks at a Syrian airfield where it has been steadily building up defenses." The sources of this material escalation: two U.S. officials... speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Just like the "sources" on all Greek developments over the past 5 years.
Reuters also notes that "one of the U.S. officials said seven Russian T-90 tanks were seen at the airfield near Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two U.S. officials said Russia had also positioned artillery there" adding that "the two U.S. officials said Russia had also positioned artillery, which they said appeared."
T-90 stock photo
We can only hope the "anonymous" US officials will soon provide photographic evidence of their claims.
One irony is that both Moscow and Washington say their enemy is Islamic State, whose Islamist fighters control large parts of Syria and Iraq. But Russia supports the government of Assad in Syria, while the United States says his presence makes the situation worse, which promptly eliminates ISIS as the proximal cause for any military action in the middle east and confirms that the only fulcrum issue is the political future of Syria with the latest conflict merely yet another proxy war waged on behalf of commodities.
The second irony is that the events of the summer/fall of 2015 in Syria are a replica not only of the Syrian showdown of 2013 when nobody was hiding their military intentions, or inventory for that matter, in the Syrian region but also of the summer of 2014 when the US was accusing Russia, and Russia was correspondingly denying, that Russian troops/equipment were present in east Ukraine.
That particular escalation point fizzled out, however since it was all a grand rehearsal for the Syrian Showdown 2.0, this time we expect that the tit-for-tat build up, both in the press and on the battlefield to continue as both sides play coy for media purposes, until finally it becomes clear that an armed showdown over the future of the Qatar gas pipeline is virtually inevitable.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent Syrian refugees continue to flow out of the country to avoid becoming collateral damage in what is almost assured to become a shooting war, and after receiving a warm welcome in Europe if only for a few months, have now found themselves non grata in the German promised land which has shut its borders to the Syrians. This happens as they have also found their "closest and richest neighbors" namely Saudi Arabia, want nothing to do with them.
Which now leaves the "noble" US as the last and only willing recipient of hundreds of thousands of Syrian migrants. Perhaps they can all find shelter at the White House?