This column was written for the Unz Review: http://www.unz.com/tsaker/week-fifteen-of-the-russian-intervention-in-syria-when-no-news-is-good-news/
We could say that the Russian intervention in Syria has settled into somewhat of a routine: the Russians are bombing, a lot, and the Syrians are advancing on almost all fronts, but slowly. While those who expected a rapid collapse of Daesh followed by a series of major government victories might be disappointed, I am personally rather encouraged by these events. Here is why:
If the Syrians did not win in a rapid Blitzkrieg it is first and foremost because such a Blitzkrieg was never a real possibility. The Syrians never had the numbers to concentrate enough forces on one attack axis and to subsequently exploit a breakthrough. The Syrians also lack the firepower needed to prepare the Daesh defenses before attempting such a offensive. In fact, a secondary role for the Russian AirSpace forces has been to provide from the air the firepower the Syrians lacked in their ground forces. However, while a Blitzkrieg is always very impressive, if risky, there is another time tested form of warfare, attrition warfare, which can also yield results. I am not talking about a WWI kind of attrition warfare, of course, but one specific to the Syrian conflict.
The Russians are steadily degrading Daesh on many levels: they are hitting their command posts, their ammo dumps, their logistics and supply routes, their training bases, etc. Since a lot of those targets have now been destroyed, the Russians are also proving more and more close air support, that is to say that they are now flying sorties in direct support of Syrian army operations. There is also mounting evidence that Russian officers are now working closely with the frontline Syrian units. This closer cooperation and coordination between the Russians and the Syrians has yielded many small victories and at least one major one: the city strategic of Salma, in northeastern Latakia province, has now been fully liberated . Check out this video, in Russian but not translation is really needed, for footage of the liberation of this city:
check here for a recent progress, subtitled in English, report by the Russian General Staff:
On the negative side, the Syrians and Russians have still not found a way to deny Daesh its major advantage: the ability to pump more and more combatants into Syria through Turkey and other countries. At this point in time, it is unclear who has the advantage in this competition: can the Syrian kill Takfiris faster than Daesh can import them or not. Regardless, what is certain is that the Syrians are advancing and that tells me that while the influx of new combatants is definitely a problem for the Syrians, it is not one which has made it possible for Daesh to stop the Syrians from advancing.
I have already mentioned in the past that the Russians are also supplying the Syrians with advanced artillery systems which will gradually restore the Syrian’s ability to have organic and powerful firepower in their ground force units.
One very interesting news item came out recently: there are reports that Russia is now directly providing weapons to Hezbollah. If these reports are confirmed (more or less, nobody will ever acknowledge that officially, of course) then this would be a very elegant response to the Israeli bombings of Hezbollah arms depots. As for Iran, we can be quite sure that they can get almost anything they would need from the Russian market anyway. In other words, Russia will be slowly but surely rebuilding the Syrian capabilities.
Still, the big event of the past two week is a non-event, really. It is the fact that the US-lead “alternative coalition” is achieving exactly nothing. Not only was the big conference in Saudi Arabia a total failure after Ahrar al-Sham walked out, but the recent Saudi attempt are creating a crisis with Iran have also petered out without yielding any tangible results. Ditto for the French intervention in response to the massacres in Paris: the Charles de Gaulle sailed to Syria and then nothing. Literally nothing of any significance happened. As for the World Hegemon, it appears that Uncle Sam simply does not know what to do: all we have seen out of Washington is a series of vapid statements following by nothing. As for the Turks, they are now dealing with an internal situation which is getting worse by the day and they also appear to have no idea what to do about Syria.
This is why I think that “no news is good news”: because no news means that Russia is the only game in town: whatever the pace of the Russian-Syrian advance against Daesh, they are the only ones getting anything actually done while everybody else is in complete disarray.
For a while, the Pentagon was floating the idea of a US backed Kurdish offensive against the city of al-Raqqah, presented as the “capital of Daesh”, and some US special forces were sent in to help the Kurds, but it rapidly turned out that the Turks categorically opposed that. Worse, the Kurds also refused to provide cannon-fodder for a US run operation against Daesh. So much for that grand plan.
In other words, and in this moment in time, there appears to be no workable plan from the US, NATO, EU, Turkish, Saudi, etc. The only actor which not only has a plan, but which has now been pursuing its long term goal are Russia and Iran. It is also worth noting that the Russian-Iranian plan as build-in flexibility: if possible, the Russians and Iranian want to get the best situation on the ground before engaging in any negotiations about the future of Syria. If that is not possible and the Empire insists in doubling-down yet again, then the fall-back plan is simple: militarily defeating Daesh.
The best proof that the Russian side is willing to sustain a long campaign is the recent SOFA (status of forces agreement) signed between Russian and Syria which basically regulates the Russian presence in Syria and which does not have a time limit. In fact, if either side wants to withdraw from that agreement it has to give a one-year warning to the other side. It is likely that the Iranian and Syrians also have a very similar agreement but that it has not been made public.
There is a lot of speculations about a possible Russian ground operation in Syria. I don’t buy this notion at all. Not only have Russian officials and military experts dismissed such an option, but the Russian military is simply not configured for such a long-range power projection. Yes, Russia could, in theory, send in and Airborne forces and then have then supported by a naval task force, but that would run counter to Russian military doctrine and pose very serious potential risks. Barring something truly extraordinary, I don’t see the Kremlin going for such an extremely dangerous gambit.
So the plan appears to be the following one:
- Stabilize the Syrian government (done)
- Attrition warfare against Daesh (in progress)
- Re-build the Syrian armed forces (in progress)
- Establish a permanent Russian military presence (done)
- Prevent the imposition of a no-fly zone by the US/NATO (done)
- Force the Empire to negotiate with Assad (in progress)
- Disrupt the Turkish, Saudi and Qatari support for Daesh (in progress)
- Co-opt as much as possible of the armed opposition to Assad into a common anti-Daesh front (in progress)
- Provide military aid to Iran and Hezbollah (in progress)
- Keep Daesh combatants away from Russia and her allies in the Caucasus and Central Asia (in progress)
- Try to convince the Europeans that their stance in the Middle-East (and elsewhere) is self-defeating and that they must work with Russia to restore stability (no results so far)
- Try to drive a wedge between the US and Europe (no results so far)
I think that this plan successfully combines short-term and long-term objectives and that it has a good chance of succeeding, at least in the first 10 objectives. Alas, I don’t see any signs that the US grip on Europe (via the subservient European comprador elites in power) is getting weaker. If anything, the complete flop of Hollande’s trip to Washington proved that even France has no real sovereignty left.