Why Russia is bombing Syria
by Aron Lund, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace
After only three days of strikes, we can hardly sketch a clear pattern and must not jump to conclusions. But it should be obvious that the Kremlin is in no way limiting its offensive to the Islamic State. Quite the contrary, most attacks so far seem to have targeted other groups and despite its antiterror rhetoric, the Russian government appears to be primarily concerned with bolstering its ally, Assad. If that is the goal, it will require taking on a wide array of other rebel factions.
In Moscow’s view, these are not contradictory goals. By propping up Assad, the Russians argue, they are empowering a ground force able to shield what remains of the Syrian state and to block Islamic State advances into western and southern Syria.
The United States takes the opposite view, saying that Assad cannot be a partner—or at least not their partner—because he is a war criminal and because such an alliance would ruin relations with the Sunni Arab factions needed to build a sustainable alternative to the Islamic State. But Putin is likely to shrug off these objections, as he has done for four years.
Assuming, then, that the Russian intervention is in fact mainly about protecting Assad, where does Assad need protection the most? I think my September 23 guesses were good enough. In order to preserve his hold on core areas and the economically useful bits of Syria, Assad must focus on the the Ghab-Hama front, the Homs region, and his supply line to Aleppo.
This means that we’re going to continue to see a lot of Russian airstrikes in these areas in the months ahead.
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