Understanding Russian’s military expansion in Syria, or consolidating the Assad regime

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Ma Okt 5 00:18:13 CEST 2015


Understanding Russian’s military expansion in Syria, 
or consolidating the Assad regime

Posted on October 4, 2015	

In the end of summer 2015, Russia greatly expanded its military involvement 
on the side of the Assad regime, including providing serious training and 
logistical support to the Syrian army.[1] On September 17, 2015, the 
regime’s army started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by 
Russia, while satellite photos taken in mid-September showed Russian forces 
developing two additional military facilities close to Lattakiyya.[2]

Another level of Russia’s military involvement was reached on September 30, 
2015, when Russian jets conducted its first raids in Syria under . In 
addition to this, Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria on 
September 21 and will soon join Assad regime forces and their Lebanese 
Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes. 
The military operation would be aimed at recapturing territories lost by 
Assad regimes to various opposition forces. Most probably, the coming land 
operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside.[3]

As a reminder, all these actors have been the key actors in the survival of 
the Assad regime, Russia has long supplied Assad armed forces with the vast 
majority of their weaponry. The Russian state has continued to ship 
substantial volumes of small arms, ammunition, spare parts and refurbished 
material to pro-regime forces. In January 2014, Russia stepped up supplies 
of military gear to the Syrian regime, including armoured vehicles, drones 
and guided bombs.[4]

         The campaign of the “war against terrorism”, or saving and
          consolidating the Assad regime

The propaganda around the campaign of the “war against terrorism” launched 
by the Russian state is a way to support the Assad regime politically and 
militarily and crush all forms of opposition to it. Putin wants the various 
international imperialist actors in the West to consider Assad as the ruler 
that can help them in their fight against “terrorism.”

This can be viewed in the targets of the Russian raids. On September 30, 
2015, Russian jets conducted its first raids in Syria against the village of 
Zafarana north of Homs as well as near the town of Lataminah northwest of 
Hama, neither of which are actually the Islamic State (IS) strongholds. In 
nearby Hama, one group targeted in the strikes, Tajammu al-Izzah, is 
considered to be an important member of the Free Syrian army (FSA) in the 
area. It was one of the few in Syria to have received anti-tank rockets and 
had regularly used them against Syrian tanks and armoured vehicles across 
central Syria. On the same day Russia also bombed Talbiseh, al-Mukarama, 
Reef Homs al-shamali. All of these areas are mainly under FSA control and 
with also some presence of Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Sham. The Syrian Civil 
Defense Forces, a volunteer emergency responder organization, more than 35 
civilian casualties from the Russian airstrike on Homs and Hama.

On the following days, Russian jets targets included a command post and 
underground weapons bunker near Raqqa, as well as a weapons store in Maarat 
al-Numaan. Maarat al-Numaan, in Syria’s northern province of Idlib, is not 
known as an Islamic State base. Most fighters in the area are from Jaysh 
al-Fatah coalition led by Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recorded at least 39 civilians had 
been killed since the start of the Russian air strikes September 30, 2015, 
while 14 fighters, mostly IS jihadists but also members of Jabhat Al Nusra, 
Ahrar Sham and FSA brigades, had also been killed. Britain’s defense 
minister actually declared that only one in 20 Russian air strikes in Syria 
were aimed at the IS forces. The Russian air strikes have actually hit at 
least four factions operating under the umbrella of the FSA.[5]

Russian officials have declared that the airstrikes would last around 3 and 
4 months.

The objectives of these airstrikes are clear: save and consolidate the 
political and military power of the Assad regime. Russian President Vladimir 
Putin actually said on September 28, before the beginning of the Russian 
airstrikes: “There is no other way to settle the Syrian conflict other than 
by strengthening the existing legitimate government agencies, support them 
in their fight against terrorism”. In other words crush all forms of 
opposition, whether democratic or reactionary, to the Assad regime under the 
so called “war on terror”. All authoritarian regimes have used this same 
kind of propaganda to repress popular movements and/ or opposition groups to 
their powers: Assad against the popular movement since day 1 of the popular 
uprising, Sissi in Egypt to repress particularly the Muslim Brotherhoods, 
but also progressive left and democratic movements such as the Revolutionary 
Socialists, Movement of April 6, etc… Erdogan against the PKK and various 
leftist movements, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia against the protesters and 
popular movements challenging their power, etc…

International Imperialist powers have not been different, from the Russian 
State repressing any forms of resistance in Tchetchenia to its occupation 
and the USA’s various military interventions across the world. Both were and 
are claiming to fight against terrorism.

The time for this military expansion of Assad’s regime allies led by Russia 
is led by two main reasons: 1) the increasing political and military 
weakness of the Assad regime and 2) the absence or the lack of any clear 
policy from Western powers to assist the revolutionaries in Syria.

        Political and military weakness of the Assad regime

Firstly on the military level, the Syrian army has been weakened 
considerably, various estimation pointing out that its numbers fell from 
300,000 to as little as 80,000 and had suffered various important defeats 
these past few months, notably after the fall of the northern towns of Idlib 
and nearby Jisr al-Shughour in May 2015 falling in the hands of the 
coalition of the Jaysh al-Fatah, led by Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Sham.

Desertions and lack of will from the Syrian youth to die for a corrupt and 
authoritarian regime explain mainly the impossibility of the regime’s army 
to recruit new soldiers. A lot of young men have actually been fleeing for 
Europe often after having received their call-up papers or being ordered to 
report for reserve duty. Propaganda for the army in State medias, recruiting 
posters all over Damascus and recent amnesty for deserters and draft dodgers 
did not change anything.

Assad actually acknowledged in last July that the army’s regime has a 
shortage of manpower and had to abandon some areas in order to better defend 
what is called la Syrie utile – Damascus through to Homs and the coastal 
area around Lattakiyya.

The weakness of the regime’s army has led to the creation of a 
125,000-strong locally based National Defence Force, which has been trained 
and paid by the IRI, who also favour the use of Shia militia fighters from 
Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Hezbollah. For the supporter of 
the Assad regime, claiming that Assad defends the State and its institutions 
it’s rather embarrassing… without forgetting that vast majority of 
destructions of State institutions, including schools, hospitals, et.. are 
the result of the shelling of regime forces.

On a political level, growing and increasing frustrations have been 
expressed in the so called “loyalist” region against the Assad regime, 
especially in the past few months.

In the beginning of September, demonstrations occurred in the two Shi’a 
villages of Fuaa and Kafriyeh in the province of Idlib, to show their anger 
at the inaction of the Syrian regime that failed to help them repel the 
attacks and bombings of Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Sham. According to several 
media, the protesters reportedly went in Homs and Damascus where they would 
have blocked the road to Damascus airport for several hours on Monday August 

In August, more than one thousand people carried out a sit-in at the 
roundabout of al- Ziraa in the city of Lattakiyya protesting on the 
murdering of the colonel Hassan al- Sheikh who was killed by Sulaiman al- 
Assad – the son of Bashar al- Assad’s cousin Hilal Al-Assad who was the 
leader of National Defence Force Hlal al- Assad killed in March 23, 2014. 
These people aren’t supporting the revolution, for now, but they are worth 
reaching out to because they are tired of the war, tired of the harsh socio 
economic situation, and sick of the corrupt Assad family running the places 
it still controls and acting as if Syria was their own property while steal 
in its wealth. Other demonstrations have occurred in Tartus by family 
members of soldiers to denounce the way the regime treat their soldiers and 
demand their return.

In the region of the city of Sweida, majority inhabited by the Druze 
community where various protests were witnessed to protest against some 
regime’s policies and low services. Very lately, demonstrations and protests 
broke out following the assassination of Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous, who is a 
Druze Sheikh and is known for his opposition to the Syrian regime and to the 
Islamic fundamentalist forces, in an the explosion in Dahret al- Jabal area 
killing also more 20 persons. Demonstrators protested in front of several 
government buildings and smashed a statue of the former Syrian regime 
president Hafez al-Assad in Sweida.[6] Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous was a very 
popular figure among the Druze population and was leading the movement 
“Sheikhs of dignity”, a group that is committed to protect the Druze in the 
province and that was also fighting the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat 
Al-Nusra. Sheikh Wahid Bal’ous was also opposed that the Syrian army 
recruits men originating from Sweida, to be sent to fight outside the 
province, which is under the control of the regime and Druze militias. A few 
days before the death of Sheikh Bal’ous, inhabitants of Sweida, demonstrated 
demanding more basic services to the regime, including water and 
electricity. The cleric supported these protests.

          The absence or the lack of any clear policy from Western
          powers to assist the revolutionaries in Syria

This second element is not something rather new, Western powers have been 
characterised by their inactions and no clear policy since the beginning of 
the revolution to assist the Syrian revolutionaries.

The allies of the Assad regime have understood this and this is the main 
reason why their political, military and economic support to the 
dictatorship of Damascus have been constant and even increased through 
times. This reality is reflected in the words of Alaeddin Boroujerdi, 
chairman of the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security in the 
Iranian parliament, who declared in June 2015 during a visit in Damascus 
that Iran’s support for the Syrian regime is “stable and constant” and 
stressed that there were no restrictions or limits to cooperation with Syria 
and providing support.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stood in UN halls and continuously defended 
that Assad’s regime must not be weakened if Western States is serious about 
combating “terrorism”. Rouhani also declared in an interview on CNN that 
“everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can 
combat the terrorists”.

This is actually the sad truth as we can see.

The US president clearly stated in his speech on September 28 at the UN 
General Assembly his willingness to work with Russia and Iran to find a 
solution in Syria while emphasising the implausibility of maintaining “a 
pre-war status quo”.[7] On the first Russian airstrikes, U.S. State 
Department spokesman John Kirby stated that a Russian official informed the 
U.S. Embassy in Baghdad about the airstrikes and requested that American 
military aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during Russian operations. Senior 
Israeli officials also announced that Russia informed Israel about an hour 
before it conducted airstrikes in Syria. Russian government officials made 
contact with Israeli National Security Adviser, Yossi Cohen, as well as 
other senior officials in the Israeli defense establishment. The notice was 
designed to avoid any confrontation between Israeli and Russian planes. [8]

UK Prime Minister David Cameron declared he was not ruling out Assad’s role 
in Syria’s transition, but “what he is very clear about is that Assad cannot 
be part of Syria’s future in the long run”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel 
went in the same direction saying it was necessary to speak to “many actors, 
among them Assad”. Turkish officials have also declared that Assad could 
play a role in a transition period.

Israeli military sources have confirmed the existence of consensus within 
Tel Aviv’s decision making circles over the importance of the continuation 
of the Assad regime. Military affairs commentator Alon Ben-David quoted a 
source within the Israeli Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying: “Although no one 
in Israel can say this publicly and explicitly, the best option for Israel 
would be for the Assad regime to remain and for the internal fighting to 
continue for as long as possible.”

These positions were strengthened with the refugee crisis of these past few 
weeks. The vast majority of television programs, articles and so called 
experts talking about millions of refugees from Syria had the same 
discourse: the problem is the IS. Various officials of numerous countries 
went as far as to say that European states should coordinate with the Assad 
regime and its allies Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran to resolve and 
end the problem of the IS and therefore in their minds of refugees. This is 
of course forgetting that the root of the problems in Syria is the Assad 
regime and that this latter is responsible for more of the 90% of refugees 
leaving the country.[9]

On October 2, 2015, 70 rebel factions and the Syrian National Coalition, in 
an emergency meeting after the beginning of Russian airstrikes, decided to 
end cooperation with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s initiative for “work 
groups” to study a resolution of the conflict. These groups have completely 
refused any place for Assad in a transitional period and also rejected the 
last calls made by the regime officials for negotiation talks under the 
umbrella of the United Nations. They also condemned Russian airstrikes and 
accused Russia in participating in the war against the Syrian people.

The objectives of the USA and Western powers since the beginning of the 
uprising in Syria have never been to assist and help the Syrian 
revolutionaries or to overthrow the Assad regime. It has tried on the 
opposite to reach an agreement between the Assad regime (or section of it) 
and the opposition linked to Western and Gulf regimes, and which in 
unrepresentative of the popular movement and completely corrupted.

As a reminder, according to the Geneva guidelines of June 30 2012, agreed to 
unanimously by the Permanent five 5 members of the UN Security Council, it 
would be permissible for Assad to serve on the transitional governing body. 
Indeed, he could preside over it. All that was required was the consent of 
the opposition delegation. Similarly, delegates representing the Syrian Arab 
Republic—the regime and the government—could withhold consent to persons 
nominated by the opposition.

In addition to this, the absence or the lack of any kind of “large”, 
organised and decisive military assistance of the USA and/or Western states 
to the Syrian revolutionaries is another proof of any this lack of will for 
any radical change in Syria. The Wall Street Journal published an article in 
January 2015 on this CIA aid saying:

“ Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration 
ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favourite trusted commanders got the 
equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they 
had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t 
get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to 
battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no”.

The plan of Barack Obama’s, which was approved by the U.S. Congress of $500 
million to arm and equip 5,000-10,000 Syrian rebels, but was never 
implemented, was not aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime, as we can read 
in the text of the resolution:

“The Secretary of Defence is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary 
of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, 
and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition 
and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the 
following purposes:

   Defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq 
   and the Levant and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition.

    Protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian 
    people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria.

    Promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict 
    in Syria.”

Until today this program is a failure. “The program is much smaller than we 
hoped,” conceded the Pentagon’s policy chief, Christine Wormuth, saying 
there were between 100 and 120 fighters currently being trained, while 
adding that they were also “getting terrific training”.[10] A top military 
general told Congress that the US had successfully trained just “four or 
five” opposition soldiers.

The chief of staff of the US-trained Syrian rebel group Division 30 actually 
resigned from his position and withdrew from the program, on September 19, 
2015. Citing problems such as “the lack of sufficient numbers of trainees,” 
and “the lack of seriousness in the implementation of the project to 
establish the 30th brigade”.[11] The other problem faced with the United 
States to constitute armed groups in Syria loyal to their interests was and 
is also thwarted by the reality on the ground. This is because of the 
decision of a large majority of opposition groups to cooperate with 
Washington only if they are able to maintain their independence and 
autonomous decision-making, and if the collaboration includes a clear plan 
for the overthrow of the Assad regime.[12]

Regional countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have on their side 
funded various groups, in their far majority Islamic fundamentalist groups 
that oppose the objectives of the revolution, for their own selfish 
political interests. Qatar for example have been a key supporter of Jabhat 
Al Nusra (Al Qaida branch in Syria), while Turkey have supported directly or 
in a passive way various Islamic fundamentlist groups, such as Jaysh al 
Fatah coalition led by Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar Sham and the IS by 
providing a complete freedom of actions on both sides of borders for a very 
long period, in northern Syria against democratic FSA forces and especially 
to oppose any autonomy of Kurdish regions in Syria under the umbrella of the 
PKK. Private networks of the Gulf Monarchies on their sides have been acting 
and funding with the approval of their ruling classes various Islamic 
fundamentalist forces in the perspective of transforming the popular 
revolution in a sectarian war.


Many protests and demonstrations have occurred in liberated areas of Syria 
these past few days to condemn the Russian airstrikes in Syria, targeting 
mostly as we said civilians and various military groups, but not the IS. 
Various groups on the grounds have opposed Russian airstrikes.[13] The Local 
Coordination Committees of Syria condemned Russian airstrikes that are “to 
assure the survival of the Assad regime” and called “upon all revolutionary 
forces and factions to unite by any means and respond to the Russian 
aggression”.[14] The FSA Southern Front also condemned Russian airstrikes 
and characterised Russian and Iran presence in the country as an occupation. 
These two last groups called for a democratic Syria as well.

FSA forces have also claimed to have shoot down one Russian jet in 
Lattakiyya province on October 3, 2015, with FSA forces arresting the pilot 
after he ejected from the plane. To be confirmed.

Russia’s military expansion, in addition to Iranian’s expansion, is a clear 
offensive to put a complete end to the popular uprising in Syria by wanting 
to save and consolidate militarily and politically the Assad regime and to 
crush all forms of opposition. This is done with the passivity and some 
acceptation of Western powers, which want to stabilize the region at any 
price and therefore Assad’s resignation is not a pre-condition to a 
transition period.

The different world imperialist powers and regional bourgeois regimes, in 
spite of their rivalry, have a common interest in the defeat of the popular 
revolutions of the region, and the most obvious example is that of Syria. 
The multiple peace initiatives on Syria, supported by all the global and 
regional powers without exception, had the same objectives since the 
beginning of the revolutionary process in 2011: to reach an agreement 
between the Assad regime and an opportunistic faction – linked to the 
Western States, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies – of the opposition coming 
together in the Syrian Coalition.

The issue is not refusing any kind of solution to an end of the war, yes the 
Syrian people have suffered too much and most of them want a form of 
transitional period towards a democratic Syria, but any kind of “realist 
solution”, as officials and analysts like to speak, on a mid and long term 
can not include Assad and other criminals with blood on their hands of the 
regime, otherwise we will see a continuation of the military conflict in 
Syria. Assad and his various partners in the regime must be held accountable 
for their crimes, and a similar process could be put in place as well for 
the crimes of the Islamic fundamentlist forces and other groups as well. In 
addition to this, we have to understand that to expect any kind of minimum 
change, not only Assad should be overthrow but the whole team of officials 
controlling security services, the army and various state apparatus. The 
patrimonial nature of the Syrian regime needs to be included in any 
understanding for real change.

All revolutionaries must oppose this new imperialist military intervention 
in Syria to save a crumbling dictatorship and which is resulting in new 
civilian casualties and suffering. The interventions of Russia, Iran, 
Hezbollah and various Iraqi Shi’a fundamenlist groups have only caused more 
deaths in Syria, in addition of crushing a popular uprising. In the same 
time, even though less important, we also oppose the interventions of Gulf 
monarchies and Turkey in the past, which were for their own self interests 
and to change the nature of the revolution into a sectarian war and they 
supported Islamic fundamentalist groups that attacked, and continue to do so 
in many regions, revolutionaries, civilians and soldiers from the FSA.

We must also support the delivery of arms and weapons with no political 
conditions attached from the West to democratic sections of the FSA and of 
the Kurdish forces to fight and struggle against the Assad regime and 
Islamic fundamentalist forces.

Finally and most importantly, internationalists from throughout the world 
should continue to support the pockets of hope that still exist and resist 
in Syria composed of various democratic and progressive groups and movements 
opposing all sides of the counter-revolutions, the Assad regime and Islamic 
fundamentalist groups. They are the ones still maintaining the dreams of the 
beginning of the revolution and its objectives: democracy, social justice, 
equality and no to sectarianism.

As written on a placard by a revolutionary in the city of Zabadani:
””Revolutions don’t die, even if slaughtered. They’re the land’s fertilizer 
and give life even after a while”

Joseph Daher

October 4, 2015

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11845635/Vladimir-Putin-confirms-Russian-military-involvement-in-Syrias-civil-war.html

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/22/us-mideast-crisis-russia-bases-idUSKCN0RM21520150922

[3] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/01/us-mideast-crisis-syria-iranians-idUSKCN0RV4DN20151001?mod=related&channelName=worldNews&utm_source=Facebook

[4] https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/will-russia-intervene-syria

[5] http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/03/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN0RX0FX20151003

[6] http://www.syriahr.com/en/2015/09/31121/

[7] http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/assad-mass-murderer-rational-dictator-187936298#sthash.DTHu4OtC.dpuf

[8] http://iswresearch.blogspot.it/2015/09/russias-first-reported-air-strikes-in.html

[9] see this article :https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/the-islamic-state-or-the-main-reason-for-the-millions-of-refugees-from-syria/

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/16/us-military-syrian-isis-fighters

[11] http://uk.businessinsider.com/division-30-syrian-rebel-chief-of-staff-quits-2015-9

[12] See https://syriafreedomforever.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/syria-an-analysis-of-the-international-coalition-intervention-led-by-the-usa/

[13] follow this link for more information in english https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/russian-imperial-aggression-unites-the-syrian-opposition/

[14] https://www.facebook.com/LCCSy/posts/1238711152822685?fref=nf

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