Last night during the GOP debate the question of Syria was asked; none of the candidates spoke of an increasingly specific aspect to the Syrian reality.
It was only a few weeks ago when Egypt’s Fattah el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah went to Moscow and met with Vladimir Putin.
A little over a week later Putin begins putting additional Russian military forces into Syria presumably to assist Bashar Assad in removing his adversaries, various ISIS elements.
What Putin is inevitably doing right now is pushing out those elements within Syria who collectively create one side of the Syrian civil war. He’s going to continue pushing those Syrian people into Turkey and, as a consequence of Erdogan’s unwillingness to be destabilized by those elements, ultimately they will travel into Europe.
SYRIA […] Russia is ramping up military aid to Syria, home to its only naval base outside the former Soviet Union. Big questions remain, the U.S. official stressed, including whether Putin really is prepared to see Assad marginalized and, if so, whether he can persuade him to go quietly.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is set to start flying combat missions from a new air hub inside Syria, other American officials said. Putin may be betting that an increased military presence will either help Assad stay in power or give Russia more sway in influencing the outcome of the crisis if the Syrian leader is forced out.
ISIS controls as much as half of the country, while rebel militias backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar are gaining ground, leaving only about a fifth under the government’s firm control, according to Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official. That area is home to most of the population, though, including key urban centers such as the capital, Damascus.
If Putin continues to escalate his support for Assad, the Saudis, who are suspicious of the Russian leader’s intentions, will respond by stepping up their aid to the rebels, according to Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi commentator and former government adviser.
“The fact that the Russians are sending servicemen to Syria now proves that it’s not diplomacy, it’s war,” he said.
Publicly, Russia remains far apart from the U.S. and its allies on Syria. Asked if Russia would accept Assad staying on in a purely ceremonial role, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that “only the Syrian people can decide the fate of Syria, not some outside countries.”
If the gap is narrowing behind the scenes, it may largely be due to Islamic State. Putin came to power fighting Islamist separatists in the Caucasus, and has reason to fear the rise of jihadists in Syria. Their numbers include about 1,000 Russian- speakers, Elena Suponina, a Moscow-based Mideast expert, has estimated, raising the threat of attacks inside Russia. (link)
We are currently bearing witness to this forced exodus. That is why Germany’s Angela Merkel is engaging with Putin, he’s holding all the cards. If Putin pushes out the extremist forces within Syria they will end up being Merkel’s problem, she is well aware of this.
Think back to 2012 when the U.K Guardian had a reporter embedded within Syria and filed one of the most revealing articles about who the 2012 Syrian Rebel Forces were:GUARDIAN 2012 – As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.
But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.
They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.
Abu Khuder spoke later at length. He reclined on a pile of cushions in a house in Mohassen, resting his left arm which had been hit by a sniper’s bullet and was wrapped in plaster and bandages. Four teenage boys kneeled in a tight crescent in front of him, craning their necks and listening with awe. Other villagers in the room looked uneasy.
Abu Khuder had been an officer in a mechanised Syrian border force called the Camel Corps when he took up arms against the regime. He fought the security forces with a pistol and a light hunting rifle, gaining a reputation as one of the bravest and most ruthless men in Deir el-Zour province and helped to form one of the first FSA battalions. (read more)