Russia downplaying support for Bashar al-Assad

Long before the September 30, 2015 entrance of the Russian military in the Syrian Civil War, Russia has been considered one of the main allies of the Bashar al-Assad regime, providing arms and financial support to the weakened government. In a recent interview former Russian President and current Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated that the goal of the Russian intervention is the defeat of Islamic State and that support for the regime is secondary, if anything.

“Russia, the United States, and all other states that have a stake in seeing peace in this region and in Syria, and a strong government, too, should be discussing precisely political issues,” Medvedev said in an interview with Rossiya TV channel.

“It does not really matter who will be at the helm. We don’t want ISIS to run Syria, do we? It should be a civilized and legitimate government. This is what we need to discuss,” Medvedev said, using another name for the Islamic State.

Asked whether Syria had to be ruled by Assad, Medvedev said: “No, absolutely not. It is up to the Syrian people to decide who will be the head of Syria . . . At the moment, we operate on the premise that al-Assad is the legitimate president.”

This flies in the face of accounts from the battlefield that suggest a large number of sorties are being carried out on “moderate” rebel groups who are aligned with the U.S. backed coalition that is fighting a multi-front war against both the Islamic State and the Assad regime.

While Russia has fired cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea that have overflown Iraq and Iran a senior Russian military officer recently said that Russia would not hesitate to use the same munitions from naval assets in the Mediterranean Sea.

Some U.S. backed “moderate” rebel allies are complaining that arms shipments and TOW missiles that have been received via the coalition are not adequate to assist in the defense of their positions versus the advancing Syrian Army, backed by Russian close air support and additional Iranian troops and Hezbollah fighters.

The program deployed by the United States to vet and train “moderate” rebels has proven to be a monumental failure and the only troops to have fully graduated from the program — named the Division 30 — have been routed in battle and number only a few dozen at this point despite hundreds of millions of dollars having been spent.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin has downplayed the level to which out-crafting U.S. President Barack Obama figures into Russian strategy, the quickness in which the tide of the four-year civil war has turned compared to a year of a largely ineffective U.S. led air campaign that saw no discernible dent in Islamic State or Assad regime fortunes speaks volumes.

 

[Reuters] [Photo courtesy Business Insider]

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