20151008 Assad and Putin: a coalition of despots

Thursday, 8 October, 2015 – 00:00

There is no doubt that strong action is needed against Da’esh / ISIS / ISIL. But have we lost sight of the fact that the brutality of Syrian President Assad against Syrians was the catalyst for the current conflict and foreign intervention?

The current actions by Russia, driven by President Vladimir Putin, can, simplistically, be viewed as one warmongering dictator supporting another.

The alliance makes some form of oddball sense. Russia and Iran have long been allies. In the way that the USA provides unthinking support for Israel, Russia has long provided support for Iran no matter what it does both externally and internally. In a region where religious factions dominate politics, the fact that Iran is predominantly Shi’a means that support for Iran translates into support for Shi’a regimes. That, inevitably, means that Russia supports Assad.

Da’esh is, nominally, Sunni. So are many of the political and armed opponents of Assad.

Putin is leading military actions on several fronts. He supports rebels in Ukraine and he is taunting European countries and the USA by fly-bys and shipping movements on the fringes of their territorial boundaries.

Turkey says that Russia has flown into its airspace and NATO has reminded Russia that Turkish airspace is NATO airspace. Putin is flexing his muscles, and showing other countries, that he has massive air-power and sea-power, including the ability to launch mid-range missiles, at his command – and that he has the capability and will to use them.

Putin’s latest cruise missiles have been test fired but never before used in a hostile environment. Iran and Iraq, both predominantly Shi’a, have granted Russia permission for its sea-launched missiles to overfly their territory. The missiles fly high at sub-sonic speeds until they are close to their target, then flying at supersonic speed for the last few kilometres, they fly at only five metres above ground level. As a demonstration for military sales, it’s far more effective than test firing and parades.