Last week, at the Daily Beast, Michael Weiss wrote of Syria v. the Islamic State and other rebel forces it’s fighting :
Much discussed in U.S. defense circles is what the Israeli news portal YNet reported Monday, that a new “expeditionary force” of the Russian military has arrived in Damascus and converted a Syrian air force installation into its own forward-operating base. Russian pilots will also apparently start flying their own combat missions.
… The goal is said to be purely counterterrorist in nature and conforms to a new period of bilateral cooperation between Moscow and Tehran in salvaging a common ally—Assad—while also amplifying the fight against ISIS.
On Sept. 16, at the Guardian, Martin Chulov writes:
A large convoy of Russian vehicles was reportedly on the move through central Syria on Wednesday, sparking new claims that renewed Russian support for the ailing Assad regime could lead to Moscow effectively running the war.
… The armoured trucks and personnel carriers had moved south from Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast, where Russian forces have expanded the city’s airport runway and built additional hangars to house jets and transport planes that had begun arriving in early August.
… In Damascus and in neighbouring Beirut, the boosted Russian role is seen as fortifying a swathe of the country from Latakia to the Golan Heights, which is labelled “the Useful Syria”.
Heretofore, the Assad regime had been less than zealous in attacking the Islamic State because the latter seemed more interested in fighting with the other rebel groups in Syria than the regime itself. Russia’s intervention seems to indicate a change in that policy.
Meanwhile, how does intervention in Syria benefit Russia? Chulov again:
Russia has maintained a naval base and intelligence post in Tartus, north of Latakia, for almost 50 years. Its existence has been seen as a raison d’etre for Moscow’s staunch support of the Assad regime throughout the war.
… senior Russian officials have repeatedly told counterparts in the Arab world that their stance stems largely from the US-led intervention in Libya in 2011, which Moscow saw as a trick and a threat to its influence.
“… very much disrespectful of the regime as a partner and an ally,” said [the International Crisis Group’s Peter] Harling. “But [it] completely [shares the Assad regime’s] view of the war’s cause and structure. They are anti-Islamist, anti-west and anti-democratic.”
Also, Harling continues
“It plays well at home, where people have nothing but nostalgia to cling on to. They position themselves as standing up to western designs, as exemplified by Syria, and are saying to the region itself that [they] are a power to be contended with.”
As in World War II, will Russia be the decisive force? In May, at the Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor reminds us
Starting in 1941, the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Nazi war machine and played perhaps the most important role in the Allies’ defeat of Hitler. By one calculation, for every single American soldier killed fighting the Germans, 80 Soviet soldiers died doing the same.
… The Red Army was “the main engine of Nazism’s destruction,” writes British historian and journalist Max Hastings in “Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.”