Syrian Matrix Part One

Syrian Matrix Department You know I promised not to write/publish on Russian involvement in Syrian war. I changed the stance a little. How deeply the war in Syria is intertwined in global politics is beyond understanding. Read the three post for which I just found interesting articles.

Moscow Snowbound, Litvinenko Poisoned, and the Syrian War
From: The Unz Review, Israel Shamir • January 27, 2016


(Click to enlarge) From: Battle for Azaz corridor

Syrian War

The Syrian war is going well. So many things could go wrong, but meanwhile the Russian army is happy, and relations with the Syrians are next to perfect. The army is happy because they have an opportunity to use all their bright new toys. The spirit of the expeditionary force is high. The Syrian climate is much better than central Russia; there are many pretty Syrian girls who are friendly with Russian pilots and marines. Latakia is peaceful; restaurants are open. They even plan to bring the famed Russian circus to cheer the troops. Damascus is peaceful, too. In central Damascus you are lulled into a false feeling of security. You may forget about the war but for intermittent sounds of explosions from far away.

The real warfare is concentrated around the Azaz corridor, a narrow strip of land connecting Turkey to the rebel forces in Aleppo. Though it has been narrowed down to four miles in some places, the Syrian [government] Army can’t take it, despite the Russian aerial support. For the success of the whole operation, it is paramount to seize the corridor and cut the supply lines, but there is a heavy political flak and military difficulties.

At the last Lavrov-Kerry meeting, the American State Secretary six times implored his Russian counterpart to keep hands off the Azaz corridor. The Americans do not want to see Russian victory; besides, the Turks threaten to invade if the corridor is blocked. The Kurds could help the Army cut the corridor, but they do not rush to enter such a bloody and dangerous confrontation. They prefer to sit tight and wait for somebody else to do the job. (…)


(Click to enlarge) From: Sheikh Miskin released

(…) The Kurds are afraid of the Turks just across the border and do not want to upset them too much. They do not feel they have much to gain from President Assad’s victory. Syrian Christians told me the Kurds go into their territory and shoot at the Daesh forces, thus causing Daesh’s ferocious retort to the Christians. This is the sectarian reality of Syria, where only the Syrian Army fights for the whole country.

The threats and requests would not stay the advance of the Army, but taking the Azaz corridor is a formidable task anyway. The rebels are dug in; the Islamists use suicide bombers to stem the army offensive. They created deeply entrenched defensive lines and the Russian-Syrian coalition forces advance very slowly, if at all.

The Russians say that the Syrian soldiers are tired, and they do not want to fight hard. The Syrian Mukhabarat (Intelligence Services), a very important independent player, believe that Russia and Iran are committed to preserving Syria, so let them fight. This attitude seeps into the Syrian army. They, like the Kurds, prefer to sit tight and wait. Young men in danger of being drafted prefer to go to Germany or Sweden – this is the first war in history where such an option exists.

In some places the Russian specnaz (airborne, special troops and marines) dislodged the rebels, took their positions and transferred them to the Syrian Army, but the army failed to hold the positions and retreated at the first enemy shelling.

An Iranian brigade made a try and suffered very heavy losses. Some Iranian units were decimated, and since then the Iranians prefer to act as military advisers. They still have many casualties, including high-ranking ones. Iran spends some ten billion dollar a year on Syrian war, according to some sources.

The Russian ground forces are estimated at some two thousand soldiers and officers; they are needed for the defense of the Latakia area. It seems that the Russians and Iranians would have to bring more troops to win the war, but meanwhile it is not going to happen.

The Russian bombing campaign has been successful in one way: it convinced many rebel units to sue for peace. Before the bombs, they were all against any dealing with Assad government; now, they are for settling the conflict peacefully. As I wrote in my previous reports, the real purpose of Russian aerial operations is to force a peaceful solution on the rebels. Well, on some rebels, as the Daesh and an-Nusra appear quite immune to persuasion.

The Russians and the Americans do not fight Daesh too much, as if they are afraid to destroy the force they used to justify their involvement. The Syrian army attempts to advance in Palmyra were repelled by Daesh. The Daesh counteroffensive in Deir al Zour has been accompanied by a mass slaughter of civilians; the army stopped it but could not advance. So the political solution seems to be imperative for conclusion of the war.

Dealing with the armed opposition goes on two levels: local and international. Locally, Russian commissars meet with local rebel commanders and try to convince them to switch sides. Internationally, Russian diplomats argue with their counterparts from the US, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia about the agenda and personalities for the forthcoming conference.

I have met with a Russian representative who concluded his tour of duty meeting the rebel commanders. He told me that the rebels trust Bashar Assad but do not trust his officers and intelligence agents. There is much bad blood between the rebels and the Army officers. The rebels ask for Russian intermediaries and even for Russian officers to accompany them. Otherwise, they say, Assad forces will renege on promises. They often ask for money to change their allegiance. It seems that (aside from the Islamist fanatics) the rebels look for a way out of the war.

On the international level, there is hard bargaining between Russia and the rest. Moscow is a hub for negotiations: all Middle Eastern rulers and European high-ranking diplomats visited Moscow recently to discuss Syria.

Among them, there was the Emir of Qatar, who was very polite and gentle with the Russian president. He promised to attend to Russian interests in Syria. Putin presented him a fine falcon, but did not give in on his support of Assad.

There were more rumours of Russians demanding that Assad retire. These rumours usually appear in Russian opposition newspapers. From what I learned from Russian high-ranking personalities, these are just rumours created to saw distrust between the Russians and the Syrians. Russia stands by Assad, at least until the Syrian people will elect another ruler.

The conference on Syria was supposed to get together on January 25; at writing of these lines, it did not convene yet. It is not clear who will come. The Turks object to the Kurdish presence, Saudis reject some Moscow-approved persons, the US basically supports the Saudi list.

The greatest chance for peace lies in exhaustion. The Syrians are tired of war, and the Russian involvement convinced the rebels they can not win. Now they are trying to make a deal, but this is also a time-consuming operation.

However, until now the Russians have no reason to regret their decision to save Bashar Assad. Syria is more fun than the Eastern Ukraine, and the climate is better.

Israel Shamir is based in Moscow and can be reached at israel.shamir@gmail.com

This article was first published at The Unz Review.

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