Saturday, August 08, 2015

A Russian Safe Zone?

With Turkey prepared to carve out a safe zone for anti-Assad rebels in the north, is Russia prepared to do the same to save Assad?

This is interesting:

The head of the Russian airborne forces announced that if ordered to do so his troops were ready to go to Syria to fight Islamic terrorists in support of the Syrian government. The general noted that many Syrian soldiers had trained in Russia. The airborne forces, along with commandos and airmobile troops comprise about 100,000 military personnel the government can really rely on. These elite forces have to be ready to deal with emergencies across the vastness (11 time zones) of Russia. Some of those hundred thousand troops are regularly operating against Islamic terrorists in the Caucasus and some are in Ukraine or just across the border ready to move in. Some are available for deployment to Syria.

That's an odd thing to just blurt out of nowhere, isn't it?

It's interesting because three years ago I wondered if Russia would deploy troops as a symbol of support to keep Assad in control of a Rump Syria based on the coast:

Assad can either hold his Rump Alawite homeland in the western mountains along the coast; or perhaps hold a Rump + Buffer by adding inland land along the main Damascus-to-Aleppo highway from Idlib down to Homs. I leave open the question of whether Assad has the capabilities to add Aleppo to that realm. I don't think he does, but maybe he could build that capabilities if he contracts his state down.

Then we get to the question of Russian support that goes beyond shielding Assad from UN authorized Western intervention and scaring the West from going outside the UN.

Marines in Tartus with a hefty naval visit would be a start. Money, fast delivery of lower tech training aircraft capable of ground attack, and oil would all help Assad survive in a smaller state.

If Russia wants to be really bold, they might send a regiment of paratroopers (Russia's only ready ground force) to hold positions along the smaller border with Turkey that would result, and deter direct Turkish intervention in the western part of Syria that would be the entirety of a Rump Alawite Syria or a Rump + Buffer Syria.

The Turks are planning to move into Syria, now:

On July 26th the U.S. and Turkey announced a new strategy to intervene in Syria against ISIL. In addition the Turks have resumed their war with the PKK (Turkish Kurdish separatists). The objective of Turkish efforts in Syria is to create a safe zone in Syria along a 110 kilometers long portion of the Turkish border between Aleppo and Kobane. This safe zone is to be about fifty kilometers deep and will make it possible for Syrians fleeing ISIL to obtain aid in Syria rather than heading for refugee camps in Turkey.

Based on recent Russian commitments to Assad and Assad's admission that he has too few troops, could Russia throw caution to the wind and put troops into Syria to protect Assad in the northwest part of Syria by drawing a red line in front of the Turks to prevent them from using a safe zone in northern Syria as a base to defeat Assad?

And Russia, Syria, and Iran met this week to discuss Syria:

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem arrived in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with officials from allies Iran and Russia that are expected to focus on efforts to end the civil war in his country.

We'll see. It would be a big move to commit the relatively few decent Russian troops to Syria even in what is intended as a symbolic tripwire presence.

But I can totally see Putin throwing the dice just to throw the West off balance.

UPDATE: Assad had best push Putin a little faster:

Insurgents have regained control of several villages in northwest Syria from government forces and have advanced beyond them, edging closer to a coastal stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, a monitoring group and other sources said on Sunday.
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The insurgents launched a counter-offensive after government forces, backed by allied militant groups, last week recaptured the villages on the Sahl al-Ghab plain, which lies close to the city of Hama and is crucial to the defense of coastal mountains that are the heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Assad needs a defensible perimeter--perhaps with Russian direct help--before his army just collapses.

UPDATE: In response to Russia's renewed (and pointless) claim to the UN that it should own the North Pole, this author explains this move:

Why? Because Vladimir Putin needs to make a new action movie to distract his people.

The Kremlin leader is boxed in on so many fronts right now that he badly needs to change the subject.

Interesting theory. But the UN has time to ponder this quesion. So distraction-wise, it is not going to work. And filing paperwork isn't a bare-chested, tiger-hunting distraction, is it?

But deploying troops to Syria? Now that's an action movie for people distraction!

 UPDATE: Again, if Putin has an interest in intervening, he needs to do it soon:

A Syrian military source said on Tuesday the army had retreated to new defensive lines in a region of vital strategic importance to President Bashar al-Assad, seeking to avoid losses at the hands of advancing rebels.

The insurgent advance into the Sahl al-Ghab plain in northwestern Syria has brought rebels including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to the eastern edge of mountains that form the historical heartland of Assad's Alawite people.

One problem Assad has with a ground force increasingly dominated by local defense forces is that these militias are strategically immobile, tied to the local area the force is defending. So retreat too much, and Assad will lose forces just as surely as he would if he stood and fought rather than retreat.