Russia gained more diplomatic ground in Syria over the past week, as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad formally threw his support behind a Russian-led Middle Eastern coalition, possibly consisting of Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
Bashar’s formal announcement comes as Russia continues its campaign of airstrikes against rebel forces including, but not limited to, ISIS.
Russia, which initiated its air campaign abruptly last week, has directly challenged the efforts and value of the U.S.-led Western coalition, which has been conducting airstrikes in the region for some time.
Russia, supported by its near-vassal state Syria, has begun both a physical offensive against the many anti-Assad forces in the region and an informational offensive against the U.S. and Western allies.
Putin’s statements over the weekend concerning the reasoning behind this new offensive were directly attacking U.S. credibility, and its efforts in the region to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, claimed that Putin “(hadn’t) seen results. I even see results that are contrary (to the coalition’s aim). Terrorism has seen a geographic expansion and the number of recruits to terrorist groups has increased.”
In a separate television interview, Assad exclaimed that he had high hopes for Russian intervention. He stated, “The alliance between Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran must succeed or else the whole region will be destroyed … The chances of success for this coalition are great and not insignificant.”
The increasing Russian involvement in the area has led some to worry about a new proxy war between the United States and Russia, reminiscent of the Cold War.
As with Ukraine, Russia is pushing at the United States, testing its will to prevent Russia from regaining some of its former spheres of influence.
So far, it has been met with limited, but not insignificant success, pushing back the formerly encroaching West in Ukraine and seizing the Crimea. As of recent, the West has established token resistance in Syria, allowing Russian jets free reign over the skies.
Though the U.S. and its Western allies have spoken out, there has been no discussion of sanctions, nor any ideas on how to curtail the increasing Russian influence in the area.
Certainly, war is not an option being considered, nor should it be. The area is already enough of a mess, without typical U.S. heavy-handedness making it worse.
Even the limited air strikes the U.S. has used have been met by only partial success.
President Obama has also ruled out, at least for now, a real proxy war in the region.
On the other hand, increasing Russian mobilization in the region, which includes a new airbase, Russian jets and a startling amount of Russian military hardware, seems to indicate that Russia may be preparing for a ground offensive against anti-Assad forces. This brings to bear its significantly more advanced military in order to prop up its floundering Middle Eastern ally.
Though Russia’s largest detractor is her old enemy, the U.S., other Western and Western-affiliated states have also urged Putin to reconsider his course of action.
British Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his hope that Russia would “change direction” on the Syrian issue, and recognize that Bashar al-Assad’s regime needs to be replaced.
Germany expressed similar sentiments, acknowledging that while, “military efforts” are needed in Syria, “we need a political process, which has had difficulties getting under way.”
Most vehement of the Western allies is the already embattled Turkey, whose president Recep Tayyip Erdoan declared that, “The steps Russia is taking and the bombing campaign in Syria is unacceptable in any way for Turkey.”
Erdogan and Turkey, historically enemies of the Assad regime, recently intercepted a Russian fighter-bomber which reportedly crossed into Turkish airspace.
Despite all of the statements made by Western countries against Russian actions, very little real action has been taken to prevent the growth of Russian influence in the region.
Meanwhile, Russia has been quite effective in working to expand its regional hegemony.
The rise of Russia in the region dearly threatens Western interests and allies, and Assad’s hint at a coalition involving Iran threatens the creation of a Middle Eastern “Axis of Evil,” involving a number of the West’s historical enemies.