That Russia launched its first air strikes in Syria Wednesday, Sept. 30 was confirmed by the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow and criticized by US officials. Moscow stressed that it acted in support of Bashar Assad’s war on the Islamic State, assisted by other foreign powers including Iran and Iraq working together from an allied command center in Baghdad. Its targets were described as stores, ammunition dumps and vehicles, located according to US sources around Homs and Hama. The Russian communiqués did not indicate which organizations were bombed.
The Russian aerial offensive marks a turning point in Middle East affairs. Russia is emerging strongly as the number one power in the region. The governments which hitherto coordinated their military polices with the US, like those of Israel, Jordan and Turkey will have to reassess their orientation and affinities in a hurry.
For Israel it is the end of years of freedom for its air force to strike its enemies from the skies of Syria or Lebanon. It also marks the end of any plans Turkey and Jordan may have entertained for setting up buffer and no-fly zones in Syria to protect their borders.
Washington quickly criticized the air strikes, but said Moscow’s moves would not change the US-led air campaign targeting the Islamic State in Syria. That remains to be seen.
Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Russian air strikes are “not helpful,” and ran counter to the effort to make sure mishaps do not happen inadvertently in the air.
debkafile earlier reported on the fast-moving developments of Wednesday, Sept. 30.
A day after the White House said that “clarity” on Russian intentions in Syria had been achieved at the Obama-Putin summit in New York, the Russian President Vladimir Putin notched up the military tensions around Syria Wednesday, Sept. 30. A senior US official said that Russian diplomats had sent an official demarche ordering US planes to quit Syria, adding that Russian fighter jets were now flying over Syrian territory. US military sources told Fox News that US planes would not comply with the Russian demand. "There is nothing to indicate that we are changing operations over Syria," a senior defense official said.
Earlier, Putin sought from the Russian upper house, the Federation Council, authorization for the use of military force abroad. He did not specify the country or region, but the only part of the world where Russia is currently building up its ground, air and naval forces outside the country is Syria.
A short time after the request, the Federation Council announced that it had unanimously authorized the use of Russian military force in Syria. The last time Putin sought this authorization was in early 2014 when he decided to annex the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. His action now contradicts his assertion to CBS on Sept. 28: "Russia will not participate in any troop operations in the territory of Syria or in any other states. Well, at least we don't plan on it right now.”
debkafile’s military sources report that Russian preparations for military action in Syria are clearly not limited to that country. They are being run by a joint coordination forward command and war room established a few days ago by Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria in Baghdad. It is designed as the counterpart of the US Central Command-Forward-Jordan war room established north of Amman for joint US-Saudi-Qatari-Israeli-Jordanian and UAE operations in support of Syrian rebel operations against the Assad regime.
Two rival power war rooms are therefore poised at opposite ends of the Syrian arena – one representing a US-led alliance for operations against Assad, and the other a Russian-led group which is revving up to fight on his behalf.
Conspicuous in the swiftly evolving Syrian situation is the detailed advance planning which went into the Russian military buildup and partnerships, and the slow perception of what was going on, on the part of the United States and Israel.
Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter instructed his staff to establish a communication channel with the Kremlin to ensure the safety of US and Russian military operations and “avoid conflict in the air” between the two militaries. The Russian defense ministry shot back with a provocative stipulation that coordination with the US must go through Baghdad, an attempt to force Washington to accept that the two war rooms would henceforth communicate on equal terms.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon denied Tuesday night that Israel was coordinating its operations with the Russian army, stressing that Israel reserves the IDF’s right to freedom of action over Syria and would continue to prevent arms supplies reaching terrorist organizations such as Hizballah.
Meanwhile, six advanced Russian SU-34 strike fighter jets landed at Latakia’s Al-Assad international airport, after flying to their destination through Iraqi airspace.
The Russian military buildup is assuming far greater proportions than either imagined, far outpacing US or Israeli efforts at coordination.