Russian warplanes bombed anti-regime targets in Syria for a third day on Friday, and as we outlined in detail earlier, both the West and Russian media have launched an all-out propaganda blitz in an effort to spin the narrative.
For their part, the US and its allies are clinging to the notion that they are shocked - shocked - that Russia is striking targets unrelated to ISIS. This, apparently, is a direct violation of the unspoken Western policy of allowing any extremists not called “ISIS” to continue to operate on the way to ousting Assad. Of course the US and its regional allies are also fine with ISIS continuing to operate, although because “establish medieval caliphate” probably wasn’t on the list of CIA-approved operational objectives, Washington has to conduct a bombing run or two every once and a while to ensure Frankenstein doesn’t escape the lab.
As for The Kremlin, the fact that the West has managed to create any number of extremists groups on the way to destabilizing the regime in Syria means that rescuing said regime can be pitched as a “war on terror” rather than what it actually is, which is a Mid-East power grab. That is, the narrative for Russia is that when no one else could get the job done, Vladimir Putin entered the phone booth, changed into his Superman outfit, and saved the world from the Sunni extremists who threatened to destroy it. Of course that narrative isn’t entirely accurate either, but as we discussed earlier today, it’s at least closer to the truth than the West’s story. Here’s Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov summing it up: "If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?"
But don’t tell anyone in Washington that.
In any event, Russia now says its bombing runs in Syria are set to last “three to four months” which is amusing because that basically means that Moscow figures it will take about 100 days to eradicate not only ISIS, but every single armed group battling Assad. Contrast that with the US-led effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIS that has been going on for more than a year with little in the way of concrete results. Here’s Reuters:
Russia estimates its air strike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the lower house of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee said on Friday.
"There is always a risk of being bogged down but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months," Alexei Pushkov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told French radio station Europe 1. He added that the strikes were going to intensify.
Pushkov was speaking a few hours before Putin was due to meet leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine in Paris for talks about Ukraine which were likely to be overshadowed by the conflict in Syria.
Pushkov said the strikes mainly targeted Islamic State forces in spite of reports they had concentrated on opponents to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
"The opponents to Bashar are very close to Daesh (Islamic State)," Pushkov said. U.S. sources have said the Russians actually hit facilities of a U.S.-backed group, some of whose rebels received training and support from the CIA.
Pushkov said the U.S.-led coalition had "pretended" to bomb Islamic State forces for a year.
"They pretended... Only 20 percent of their (U.S. led coalition) operations produced results, 80 percent of them did not lead to bombardments, they returned to base for different reasons," Pushkov said.
But make no mistake, there is no “pretending” going on with The Kremlin's strikes. Here are the latest videos from the Russian MoD:
Here's more on the bombing runs that the US swears aren't targeting ISIS (via WSJ):
Russian warplanes made their first incursion into Islamic State’s home base, as Moscow continued a bombardment of Syria that one official said Friday could last for months.
Russian aircraft flew 18 sorties in the last 24 hours, attacking 12 Islamic State positions, Russia’s defense ministry said, and destroying command posts, a communication hub and a weapons store.
Twelve Islamic State fighters, including two commanders, one from Tunisia and the other from Iraq, were killed near the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-backed monitoring group.
Russian aircraft destroyed an Islamic State command post and communications hub in Aleppo province—where rebel groups, the Syrian government and Islamic State all have a strong presence—and hit a field camp in Idlib province, a majority of which is rebel-held, according the Defense Ministry.
Russian strikes also hit and destroyed a concealed command post in a district to the southwest of Raqqa, the ministry said.
And as we have said from the beginning, between Russian airstrikes and the increased presence of Iranian ground troops, the various Western-backed rebel groups' hopes of overthrowing Assad and taking Damascus have effectively been dashed up to and until the US decides it's prepared to engage Russia directly. Here's Reuters again:
Already out-gunned and out-manned in Syria’s civil war, U.S.-backed rebels are facing a new and possibly even more serious threat to their survival: Russian air strikes that Washington appears reluctant to thwart.
The Obama administration – blindsided by the speed of Moscow’s direct intervention and a Russian target list that included CIA-trained fighters – made clear on Thursday that the it had no desire to increase the risk of an air clash between the former Cold War foes.
While Washington took pains to insist it still considered the "moderate" opposition vital to Syria’s future and was not abandoning them, withholding U.S. air cover could further jeopardise beleaguered rebel forces.
Obama does have the power to expand the arming of moderate rebels so they can better defend themselves or to set up no-fly zones, as some critics at home have demanded, but U.S. officials note that such measures would carry their own risks of escalating Washington's involvement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be betting that Obama, wary of seeing the United States pulled into another Middle East war, would be unlikely to respond aggressively.
“Mr. Putin reads the Obama administration well,” wrote Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. “He knows that President Barack Obama never wanted to militarize the U.S. role in Syria.”
Of course if the US is unwilling to draw a line, then this "conflict" is over before it started. The memory of the Soviet-Afghan war is still fresh in Moscow's mind and The Kremlin has likely learned from its mistakes. Moreover, Russia benefits from Iranian ground support. Thanks to Moscow's implicit stamp of superpower approval, Tehran (and indirectly Hezbollah) can now play a more visible role in the conflict without worrying about the impact it will have on the optics surrounding the P5+1 deal.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are really only two possible outcomes here, i) the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and London step up to the plate and finish what they started, or ii) the entire balance of power in the Mid-East is about to shift in a matter of months.
We know who our money is on. Place your bets...