Although Russia initially said it intervened in Syria to help defeat ISIS, the campaign has mostly targeted other rebel groups.
And Russian officials have admitted that Moscow’s intervention in Syria is focused on bolstering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with the end goal of giving the outside world a choice between Assad or ISIS, Bloomberg Business reports.
Moscow’s intervention, which has consisted of significant arms shipments and a high frequency of airstrikes conducted in coordination with ground assaults by the Assad regime, is aimed at recapturing territory from all rebels including both CIA-backed nationalist rebels and Islamist militias of varying strength and radicalism.
“In the West, they talk about ‘moderate opposition,’ but we so far haven’t seen any in Syria,” General Andrey Kartapolov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, according to a Bloomberg translation.
“Any person who takes up arms and fights the legal authorities, how moderate can he be?”
The Russian strikes strikes have occurred largely in the northwest of Syria along a critical stretch of largely rebel-held provinces that separate Assad’s heartland of Latakia from Aleppo, the country’s largest city before the war.
The conflation of all rebel groups into one unified idea of being a ‘terrorist’ allows Russia to operate with considerable latitude while carrying out its airstrikes. This flexibility means Russia can present its operation as being against ISIS and other terrorists, while really focusing on rebels in the northwest – such as the Syrian Army defector-led Free Syria Army – that pose a primary threat to the Assad regime.
“Everybody understands that ‘terrorists’ is a very vague definition which allows Russia to target all groups it needs to fight in order to achieve the main goal – strengthen Syrian army positions and help them restore control over major cities,” Fyodor Lukyanov, the head of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, told Bloomberg.
Russian officials reportedly confirmed to Bloomberg that Russia’s intervention could last for as long as a year or more with the primary goal of retaking territory lost to rebels.
Even before the start of the airstrikes, Moscow had been supplying Assad with a significant amount of resources in order to prop up the regime over the course of the 55-month war.
Before the direct intervention, Russia provided the Assad regime with supplies including guns, grenades, tank parts, fighter jets, advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, long-range air defense missiles, military officers as advisers, diplomatic cover, and lots of cash.
More recently, the head of Russia’s presidential administration has confirmed that Moscow’s deployment of military resources were sent to Syria in advance to better prepare for the strikes. The Kremlin has even transported large field kitchens, singers, and dancers to Syria in a clear sign that it is preparing for a long military engagement in the country.
Ultimately, even if Russia is incapable of helping Assad to retake the entire country militarily, Russia can still count on propping up Assad enough that the continuation of his regime will bea given.
“Even if there isn’t a radical improvement in the regime’s military fortunes, which is unlikely, at the very least the aim is to consolidate its military and territorial positions to remove the question of Assad’s departure as a precondition for a political settlement,” Mikhail Barabanov, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Bloomberg.