- by Vladimir Kozin

Russia has launched high-tech air strikes in Syria, which started from 30th September 2015, in a bid to destroy all military installations and command and control centers belonging to the Islamic State (IS).

This highly aggressive military group has already captured 60 percent of Syrian territory and is threatening to grab more lands in the broader Middle East area, as well as in the southern parts of Russia. It is very sad that leading Western nations have not had any sound and rational plan to resolve the conflict in Syria, and to deliver a decisive blow to IS.

 

Reasons for involvement

During an interview with Rossiya-24 TV Channel in early October, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said: "We are protecting Russian people from terrorist threats, because it is better to do this abroad than to fight terrorism within the country.” Adding on, he also said that Russia, "unfortunately, has a very difficult experience in countering terrorism”. Recently, the Kremlin Administration Aide, Sergei Ivanov, said that Moscow had to be proactive in fighting terrorism and had "to act in distant frontiers, rather than to deal with this problem later in Russia."

Choosing to send its “men in the flying machines” to Syria was not an easy decision to make for the Kremlin as the newly-entrenched Islamic “khalifat” has killed at least 300,000 civilians and violently forced 12 million Syrians, which is almost 60 percent of the population, to flee from the war-torn country to a number of neighbouring states and Europe as “refugees of war”, rather than as “economic migrants”.

After hesitating for several years, Moscow has made its decisive choice after President Vladimir Putin received 84 percent of the nation’s support for its air forces operation against IS militant potential in Syria. 82 percent of these Russians had also questioned whether it was expedient to back President Bashar al-Assad as a legitimate head of the Syrian state - a country which was once upon a time peaceful, stable and tolerant to all other religions. President Putin also got the permission to send the Russian Air Forces abroad by the Upper House of Parliament with no “against” or “abstained” votes.

Russian leaders are using a very limited military contingent deployed at the Hmeymim airbase near Tartus, and at a Naval facility near Latakia – with a total of no more than 3,000 men. This number pales in comparison to the figure of the allied forces’ strength of 130,000 GIs in Afghanistan during the acme of their presence, or with the October-November 2015 NATO military drills in Southern Europe, code-named “Trident Juncture”, which involved 36,000 troops. Russia had made the assurance that no Russian soldier will be deployed to fight alongside the Syrian Army on the ground.

 

Strength, mission and aims

The total Russian airpower in Syria is 50 combat aircraft and helicopters. That is four times lesser than what Moscow had used against the Georgian troops to offset Tbilisi’s violent attack in South Ossetia in August 2008, and 21 times lesser than the NATO Air Forces had deployed while bombing former Yugoslavia in March-June 1999, in which nearly 3,000 civilians were killed and the overall material damage inflicted exceeded US$ 100 billion.

High ranking Russian political and military leaders claim that the Moscow operation in Syria, unofficially named “Operation Hmeymim”, will not last longer than one or two months, or even shorter, when the entire spectrum of the IS 450-500 military targets are wiped out by the sophisticated all-weather combat fighter-bombers Su-34 “Fullback”, Su-24M “Fencer” and Su-25 “Frogfoot”, all of which are fully modernised and equipped with high-tech precision-guided munitions to ensure that the civilians and their infrastructure are out of danger.

Firstly, technically, it is quite possible to avoid any undesirable “collateral damage” - all aircrafts are fitted with cutting-edge precision strike weapons - the circular error probable (CEP) of the newly developed air-dropped Russian guided bombs is less than 5 meters from the center of any potential military target, while air-launched KH-25 laser-guided missiles have a CEP less than 2 meters.

Secondly, all IS military installations are chosen based on carefully gathered data by electronic and human intelligence, including air surveillance and drone observation, gathered and verified by Russia and Syria, and in coordination with Iraqi and Iranian military personnel currently assembled at Bagdad Information Center. All four nations share equal rights and responsibilities stemming from this interoperability. Syrian Ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, confirmed that the Syrian Army had the exact grids and geographic coordinates of extremist group assets scattered in the country.

Nevertheless, as soon as the first Russian bombs started falling on IS positions in Syria, a number of Western experts have circulated reports about “innocent civilians killed by these bombs”, and the Pentagon said that IS terrorists were not the prime target of the Russian airstrikes. That is incorrect, to put it mildly. Reports claiming that Russian airstrikes on Islamic State extremist group positions in Syria hit the wrong targets were prepared and released even prior to the commencement of the military operation, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov stated.

To inform the general public about the developments in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry is providing the international community with updates twice a day on its military operation in Syria, including map, photo and video reports.

From 30th September to 4th October, 2015, there have been no official reports from the Syrian Government of any civilian casualties. No governmental or public buildings, no schools or hospitals have been destroyed. In comparison, a U.S. aircraft hit a hospital in Kunduz, Northern Afghanistan, on 3rd October killing 19 people and causing 37 others to be heavily wounded.

During this period of time, Russian aircrafts have made more than 80 air raids on IS military assets and fully destroyed more than 60 of them - command and control posts, ammunition depots, arms production plants, storages of heavy weaponry. Russian pilots have already, and quite successfully, used a concrete-penetrator bombs “BETAB-500” and satellite-guided “KAB-500” bombs against IS hardened targets.

As a result of these carefully planned attacks, IS militants are deserting from their strongholds en masse with an uninterrupted panic sweeping their ranks, Russian General Staff reported on 3rd October. So far, nearly 700 armed men from IS have laid their arms and surrendered to the Syrian troops in Deraa 110 km from Damascus after the air raids began on September 30th. There are reports that 3,000 IS militants have ceased resistance in some other areas.

"Russia's entry into this struggle [with IS], with its [Russia's] potential and opportunities … will contribute to reduction of terrorism in Syria, and its eradication," Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s Foreign Minister, said in an interview with the Saudi “Al Arabiya” broadcaster.

 

Air sorties will be intensified

On 3rd October, General Colonel Andrey Kartapolov, the Head of the Main Operational Department, Russian General Staff, said in the newly-enacted state-of-the art National Defense Command Center, that Moscow even plans to intensify its air power mission in Syria. It is a logical option.

A US-led international coalition comprising 60 nations has been pounding IS targets in Syria for over a year, but the lack of coordination with Damascus stalled the progress. Allies had not received intelligence on the IS targets from the ground, while the regular Syrian army gets no chance of benefiting from U.S. air support. As Russian MP Alexei Pushkov puts it, the Western coalition has been bombing non-populated desert areas or dummy barracks day-in day-out with no results. It looks as if the US-led Western coalition was simply imitating the activity against IS.

More than that, the coalition has been bombing Syria without getting advice and consent from the UN Security Council, or from the Syrian Government. It is a gross violation of the UN Charter. On the other hand, Moscow is militarily acting in Syria in accordance with the Article 51 of the UN Charter on individual and collective defense, because it was asked by Damascus to do so when the existence of the Syrian nation was at stake. There is a striking difference between what some Western and Arab nations have done in Syria so far, in comparison to what Russia is doing today.

Recently, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement calling on Russia to stop air strikes against Syrian opposition factions and civilians, and to focus its efforts on the fight against Islamic State militants. France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States had endorsed the statement, which expressed “concerns”. But are these nations capable of suppressing IS without Russia? No, they are not.

How can France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States do it in general terms? Especially if they financially, militarily and morally are extending a helping hand to that quasi-Islamic “khalifat” with the only purpose: to oust Bashar al-Assad from his presidential post at any cost, however high it is, even at the expense of creating additional influx of “refugees of war” into the European continent. Can Qatar and Saudi Arabia put a stop to it if they are supplying IS with money and weapons?  No, they cannot. But, instead of expressing “concerns” they might join an emerging bona fide coalition to resist the menace of IS that is still alive, despite having suffered immensely.

 

Warning and perspective

In these circumstances, it is very strange to hear voices seeking to supply “moderate” IS members with MANPADS to hit Russian aircraft. But are those IS terrorists who are heavily equipped with weapons and are beheading their captive people or burning them alive really “moderate”? No, all of them are “non-moderates”, and therefore must not be backed with any type of weaponry. As a high-ranking Russian military official told the RISS, Moscow will react strongly if it finds out that any MANPADS were given by any state to IS militants or to any other subversive elements in the Middle East. The USA has already assured Moscow that it would not transfer such systems to IS. Additionally, nobody should forget that IS possesses chemical warfare agents.

The Kremlin does not conceal the main aim of its military operation in Syria. The aim of Russia’s air campaign is to prepare the ground for offensive by the Syrian regular army and allied Syrian armed opposition forces hoping to regain control of IS-infested lands and restore peace and tranquility in the country.

Russia will welcome any assistance from the outside world in suppressing this highly virulent disease. It will be a strong backer of Bashar al-Assad as a single leader in Syria, who can actually save it from a nation-wide collapse due to the large-scale threat from IS. Therefore, Moscow will not accept any interference into Russo-Syrian affairs. In other words, either cooperate with Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq, or abstain from any wrongdoings to undermine their interaction.

 

Russians believe that sooner or later, Syria will again become a peaceful and stable state for all its citizens. That is the sincere will and desire of the overwhelming majority of Syrians and, naturally, the overwhelming majority of Russians.