Photo Credit: AP
On the 30th September, Russia’s parliament approved a request by the President Vladimir Putin to begin air strikes in Syria. An hour later the US was told to remove their planes from Syria, as in one-hour air strikes would begin. The air strikes took place entirely in Syria, with Russia claiming it was only attacking targets that are linked to IS. However, The US and many other countries have claimed that Russia’s only aim is to continue to prop up the Government forces lead by President Assad. The bombings were the first Russian military operation beyond the area covered by the former soviet union since the end of the cold war, and has raised tensions between the US and Russia.
The Russian defence ministry initially said that the first wave of strikes would only target militants and terrorists linked to the jihadist group Islamic State, who are currently in control of large parts of Syria and fighting government and rebel forces. However, after the air strike the US and its allies claimed that the air strikes took place where IS had next to no presence. Instead, it appeared that rebel groups that were supported and funded by the US were bombed. The rebel groups were advancing on the province of Latakia, where government forces are most concentrated.
Russia has been one of the Government forces, and President Assad’s, most important international backers. In the last year, the Syrian government suffered a series of defeats both to IS and to rebel forces, and Russia intervened, shopping Russian warplanes, attack helicopters and marines to bases in Latakia. In addition to this, Russia has repeatable blocked resolutions critical of Assad at the UN Security Council. Russian officials have justified this by claiming that Assad is the only person that can stop IS in the current fractured Syria, and in an interview with CBS when asked if his goal in the strikes was to ‘Save the Assad Administration’ Putin simply replied ‘You’re right.’
Many Syrians are fearful of the Russian intervention, with one activist telling the New York times ‘If these raids continue this way, Russia will kill a larger number of civilians that Bashar did in four years’. In addition to this, a report by the Syrian Civil Defence rescue organisation found that 33 civilian deaths had taken place thanks to just the first day of air strikes. The US defence Secretary Ashton Carter said in a speech that the Russian approach was ‘doomed to fail’ and that there were risks that Russia could ‘escalate the civil war in Syria.’
The deployment of air defence systems, fighter craft and marines in Latakia has also worried people that Russia may go on to have a larger involvement in the crisis. IS is lacking in fighter jets, which has led many to wonder why the Russian military build-up of Assad includes an array of anti-aircraft measures. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe of Nato Philip Breedlove warned on the 28th of September that Russia was developing an anti-aircraft bubble in eastern Mediterranean, saying that ‘these very sophisticated air defence capabilities are not about IS’. Russia may attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria in order to prevent the US-led coalition supporting the rebels who are fighting Assad. A Russian general asked the US military to avoid Syrian airspace on the first day of its air campaign, but US officials have said that the request was ignored.