Is Russia Sincere Enough to Save the Syrian People?
As turmoil continues to rage, the United States of America slammed Russia’s combat operations in Syria.
In her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington DC, US Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland said Russia’s actions in Syria contradict its mission to overthrow the ISIS militants.
Ms. Nuland highlighted that the vast majority of Russian strikes target areas where the Asad regime has lost territory to forces led by the moderate opposition, in towns like Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Idlib.
Ms. Nuland said the worst thing is that the “dumb bombs” Russia drops hit the wrong targets, including a market in Damascus, the Aleppo provincial headquarters, and an ammunition depot of the Free Syrian army.
Russia’s Direct Combat Role Worsens Refugee Outflow
According to Ms. Nuland, Russia’s combat operations in Syria worsened the refugee outflow and even strained Europe’s ability to cope.
It was reported that at least 120,000 Syrians have been internally displaced as a result of regime attacks, aided by Russian airstrikes. And in less than two weeks, 52,800 people were displaced in northern Hama and southern Idlib alone.
In addition, since Russian combat operations began in Syria, Greece recorded its highest weekly migration flow of 2015. It is estimated that approximately 48,000 refugees and migrants crossed from Turkey into Greece.
Refugee Outflow Continue to Rise
According to Ms. Nuland, the conflict in Syria increasingly imperils Turkey, the EU and the rest of Europe, as refugees stream out of Syria and head both north and south.
Currently, Turkey hosts 2.2 million refugees and has spent over $8 billion toward their care and well-being. And also this year, the Turkish Coast Guard rescued an estimated 68,000 individuals attempting dangerous sea voyages.
In addition, the Western Balkans is also stretched thin from increased migration, primarily through Macedonia, Serbia, and Croatia. According to the accounts of these countries, an average of 5,000 to 8,000 migrants pass through their borders daily.
Germany also is affected by the refugee outflow, and for the first 9 months of 2015, recorded 577,000 arrivals.
In Greece, more than 600,000 individuals have already entered the country’s maritime borders this year. In fact, on Greece’s smaller islands, there have been occasions when the number of daily arrivals has exceeded the number of registered permanent residents.
Effects of Russia’s Armed Operations in Syria
According to Ms. Nuland, Russia’s own artillery and other ground assets around Hama and Homs, have greatly increased their soldiers’ vulnerability to counterattack.
In addition, Russia has failed to exact any humanitarian concessions from Asad as the price for Russian support. Thus, the regime continues to barrel bomb its own citizens with impunity, perhaps even emboldened by Moscow’s help.
Amid Russia’s intention to counter ISIS, the operation is expensive.
Ms. Nuland said the price of its air campaign is estimated at $2-4 million per day. This amount would be a big help to the Russian people who are experiencing an economic downfall caused by recession.
“This at a time when average Russians are feeling the pinch of a recession brought on by economic mismanagement.” – Ms. Nuland
According to Ms. Nuland, Russia is paying a steep price to its reputation in the fight against terror.
The US is limiting its military cooperation with Russia to the most basic aviation de-confliction to protect its own aircrews.
Ms. Nuland pointed out that US and its allies are awaiting further evidence that Russia is sincere in its claims to want to fight ISIS and save Syria for the Syrian people.
The international community is doubtful of Russia’s intentions on launching military operations in Syria. The international community wants to make sure that Russia’s mission is to help save Syrian people from the perils of war rather than simply protecting Assad who bears direct responsibility for the country’s destruction.
Russia Supporting Assad?
Reports say Russia is still refusing to condemn the war crimes committed by the Syrian regime.
In October 2012, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution that would have condemned the Assad regime. Russia is opposed to the establishment of safe no-fly zones which means that Russia is explicitly supporting the war-crimes committed by the regime.
Media reports say Sergei Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister blamed the opposition.
Reports say that Russia is deploying naval military ships in the Mediterranean in an apparent gesture of support for the Assad’s regime.
Some analysts reportedly believe that Russia is worried about its heavy investments in Syria. Russia reportedly invested $30 billion in energy and tourism infrastructure and it has a naval base in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous. Reports say Russia fears that one day the international community might act against one of its client states in the old Soviet Union.
U.S.-Russia relations are often an uneasy mix of competition and cooperation.
US has real and continuing differences with Russia. While it may be tempting to downplay Russia’s importance, the United States simply does not have that luxury.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council; as one of the world’s largest nuclear powers; and as the world’s single largest producer of hydrocarbons, Russia’s strategic importance to the U.S. will matter for many years to come.