What is Russia Doing in Syria? Protecting Its National Security
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11:07 12.10.2015(updated 13:26 12.10.2015) Get short URL
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Russia had to launch an aerial campaign in Syria to protect itself from an upcoming influx of well-trained terrorists heading for the North Caucasus and Central Asia, political analyst Andrey Sushentsov wrote for the National Interest.
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"By Russian estimates, out of 70,000 [Islamic State] fighters up to 5,000 are Russian and CIS natives," the expert noted. And terrorist attacks all over the world show that it does not take this many people to wreak havoc.
Preventing seasoned fighters from returning home is what underlies Russia's military engagement in the Middle East. From this point of view, Russians could well be called "cold-blooded strategists," as the expert put it.
Despite what naysayers say, Russia is fully capable of sustaining this operation.
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Russian pilots prepared to board the SU-30 attack plane to take off from the Hmeimim aerodrome in Syria.
"Russia's military resources are sufficient to maintain an effective long-term commitment in Syria. Critics forget, that Russia has been deeply involved in conflict management in Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan in the 1990s when the Russian economy was particularly weak," Sushentsov observed.
The international relations expert detailed several benefits of Russia's limited involvement, which include achieving anti-terrorism goals, boosting military and energy cooperation with Damascus, projecting power on the scale that no other nation (except for the US) is capable of, as well as showcasing Russia's newest weapons and communications systems.
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Moscow is also fully aware of the risks involved.
Russia's relations with Turkey could take a blow and one does not need to go far to see worrying signs. For instance, the recent airspace incident has been largely brushed off as a misunderstanding by officials and experts from both countries but the Turkish president directed a not-so-veiled threat at Moscow last week, saying Ankara could find a new supplier of natural gas.
Another challenge for Russia involves not repeating the Afghan scenario of the 1980s. But, unlike many, Moscow has learned from past experiences.
"Russia can get stuck in Syria, as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan. This is why Moscow is acting after careful considerations, with viable local allies and a clear exit strategy. Having had both the Afghanistan and Chechen experience, Russia is well prepared for a low-intensity war dynamic," Sushentsov explained.
The third risk involves Russia being dragged into a Sunni-Shia conflict. To prevent this from happening, Moscow will likely "search for a resolution to the Syrian civil war by allying with potent local Sunni leaders who would join the battle against terrorists," the analyst noted.
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