The news that the British parliament had sanctioned airstrikes against IS in Syria, and that the first missions had taken place, has been widely reported in Russia. The move is likely to be seen as vindication for Russia’s ongoing operation there: with the French launching airstrikes against Syria at the end of September 2015, followed by the Russians, and now the British, Moscow is now able to cast its mission as part of an international coalition against IS. Russia has been conducting a diplomatic and PR campaign warning of the threat that countries around the world face from IS. It now looks to have achieved a significant foreign policy coup, apparently ending its isolation from the West less than two years after its annexation of Crimea and its continuing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. In the UK parliamentary debate yesterday, PM David Cameron described Russia as a ‘key player’, along with the US, Saudi Arabia and Iran, a description that will have gone down well in Moscow. However, the strategy outlined by the PM could signal a bumpy road ahead, as it envisages the installation of a ‘transitional government in six months’, implying the removal of al-Assad, an objective that will require Moscow’s support.
Problems could arise with the sheer number of aircraft in the skies above Syria, particularly as it was reported on 2 December that Russia was considering establishing a second airbase there to facilitate its operations in the south and the east of the country. Russian media reports cited a Kuwaiti newspaper report that the Shairat airfield, 35km southeast of Homs, was likely to become the base for an increase in the Russian air group, boosting the number of its aircraft in Syria to 100. Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet last week highlights the challenges ahead, both in terms of military operations and diplomacy. The war of words between Putin and Erdogan shows no signs of abating, and the chaos of Syria risks claiming another victim, as Turkish-Russian relations reach an all-time low.
Image: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and President Vladimir Putin of Russia met in Moscow to discuss the military operations in Syria, 21 October 2015, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.