WASHINGTON – According to a United States Congress report Russian President Vladimir Putin views the Syrian army and its Iranian allies as incapable of defeating the Islamic State in Syria, prompting the Russian president to directly intervene in recent weeks by setting up an air base and sending in tanks, artillery and jet fighters.
Mr. Putin’s bold yet risky move of putting troops on the ground directly confronting a terrorist group contrasts sharply with the Obama administration’s strategy of an air campaign over Syria but little other military action in that country.
The Islamic State controls wide sections of territory in Iraq and in Syria, where it has proclaimed a capital of Raqqa in Syria’s east.
Analysts at the Congressional Research Service delivered an assessment to lawmakers Friday that says Mr. Putin is helping his ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and protecting Russia’s southern flank in the Caucasus, where Islamist fighters congregate and deploy.
“Russia’s recent activity in Syria also may be motivated by an assessment that the Syrian military forces are becoming less capable and that Iranian support may be inadequate to preserve the Assad regime,” said the report. “Moscow’s primary intentions may include safeguarding the Assad regime, preserving Russian naval access to Syria, and challenging U.S. policy toward Syria.”
The report added: “Putin’s recent call for an all-out effort against the Islamic State also may stem from the sizable number of jihadist fighters from the North Caucasus fighting in Syria, who may pose a serious problem for Moscow should they return to Russia.”
If Mr. Putin does view the war against the Islamic State as stagnant, he has an ally in Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Dempsey told reporters this month that the war is “tactically stalemated.”
Russia’s military commitment to Syria sent the Obama administration scrabbling to adjust a policy battered by both Democrats and Republicans. The administration’s plan to put ground troops in Syria in the form of moderate rebels has basically failed. Fewer than a half-dozen fighters remain in the country after a number of their colleagues were killed.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Moscow to voice concerns over reports of a Russian military build-up in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
– The Washington Times
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