A week ago in “Endgame: Putin Plans To Strike ISIS With Or Without US,” we reported that Russia was set to launch unilateral airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria even if it does not receive the support of the US-led “coalition.” These will of course be real airstrikes, designed to hit real targets, and kill real extremists because after all, preserving the Assad regime means Moscow has an incentive to wipe out terror in Syria. On the other hand, the US and its regional allies have an incentive to merely contain terror in Syria - if terrorist elements work to destabilize a regime that’s unfriendly towards the West then they serve a purpose even if that purpose is transient and limited, making it necessary to conduct bombing sorties not to "degrade and defeat", but merely to make sure Frankenstein doesn’t escape the lab, so to speak.
On the heels of Vladimir Putin’s speech at the UN and amusing interviews with Western media (in which he made his intentions in Syria clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, making it virtually impossible for Washington to keep up the “we don’t know what the Russians are doing at Latakia” narrative), Russian lawmakers have now officially approved the use of force abroad, setting the stage for airstrikes on Islamic State (and any other anti-regime "terrorists"). Here’s WSJ with more:
Russian lawmakers Wednesday approved the use of military force abroad following a request by President Vladimir Putin, paving the way for possible airstrikes in Syria.
The authorization—passed unanimously by Russia’s Federation Council— comes after a request for military assistance by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to a top aide to Mr. Putin.
It comes as Russia has built up forces on the ground in Syria, including deploying combat aircraft, moves that have placed Moscow at odds with Washington. Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of staff, said Russia’s military involvement would be limited to an air campaign targeting Islamic State, or ISIL.
“As our president already said, the use of military forces in ground combat has been ruled out,” Mr. Ivanov said. “The military goal of these operations is exclusively limited to air support for the Syrian government forces in their campaign against ISIL.”
Through it all, both sides will desperately cling to their stories even as the words and actions of their respective leaders tell a completely different story. For instance, here’s WSJ parroting the “we’re just shocked at Russia’s actions” theme:
The authorization for the use of force represents something of an about-face for the Kremlin.
And here’s Russia denying the fact that this is a very clear attempt to exploit ISIS and the regional ambitions of Moscow’s allies in Tehran on the way to securing a more prominent geopolitical role for The Kremlin in the Mid-East:
Mr. Ivanov said that thousands of Russian citizens and others from the former Soviet Union are fighting on the side of Islamic State, and that many have returned home, presenting a direct threat.
“The point here is not in achieving any foreign policy goals or satisfying ambitions,” Mr. Ivanov said.
Of course Ivanov immediately qualified that assessment by saying that “we’re talking exclusively about Russia’s national interests.”
Now obviously, that kind of doublespeak makes it possible to completely reinterpret the first statement. That is, if one equates Russia’s “foreign policy goals” and regional “ambitions” with the country’s “national interests” (and really, you couldn’t possibly separate those things) then the first statement doesn’t mean what Ivanov wants you to believe it means.
Meanwhile, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met with his permanent Security Council member counterparts on Tuesday to discuss Syria. Here's the official line from the Russian Foreign Ministry:
On September 29, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended a traditional lunch for the foreign ministers of the five permanent UN Security Council members with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held in New York.
The lunch participants focused on Syria in light of the increasing terrorist threat coming from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). The Russian minster pointed to the need to create a broad counterterrorism front based on a solid foundation of international law and uniting all countries that provide a practical contribution to this struggle, including Syria’s armed forces.
They also discussed the settlement process in Yemen, where the military-political and humanitarian situation has seriously deteriorated in the past few months, as well as the possibilities of a peaceful solution to the conflict in South Sudan.
We'd be curious to know what the Chinese side had to say at the luncheon.
In any event, it's now official. Russia has cleared up any legal ambiguity around airstrikes in Syria and one can expect to see planes in the sky (they're already on the ground) in Syria in short order and if the following is any indication, they may have already started:
Somehow we suspect Russia's brand of anti-militant airstrikes will be far more effective than the Western brand has been over the course of the past year. Additionally, it's worth noting that at this juncture, the rumor mill will move from focusing on whether the planes overhead are Russian to whether the troops on the ground are Russian and while we can't know for sure, we certainly imagine that if any Russian pilots wind up being burned alive in a slickly-produced propaganda video, Putin's official line on combat troops might change rather quickly.