September 28, 2015 - San Francisco, CA – PipeLineNews.org – Recently Ilan Berman [Vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, focuses on security issues in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia] delivered an audio briefing at the Middle East Forum: Putin’s Middle Eastern Moves, which dealt with the nature and the implications of Vlad Putin’s direct military intervention into the multi-dimensional conflict currently underway, involving Iran, Syria and Iraq.
We wish to thank our friends at MEF for allowing us to publish the following partial transcript:
“What Russia is trying to do is to kill many birds with one stone with its Syrian intervention. There is a dominant theme…[in discourse within the U.S] that casts it in an almost U.S/Russian light, as in ‘Russia’s gain is our loss’ and ‘Russia is able to do the things that it’s doing because of the administration’s weakness…its fecklessness’…That’s true, I think as far as it goes, but the Russian perspective...is much broader…they are trying to achieve at least four strategic objectives:
1. The first and the most obvious is that they are trying to prop up the Assad regime…Putin said as much in a recent interview with Charlie Rose…
2. Russia in a very visceral way ideologically sees itself as a great power and a prerequisite for being a great power is having the ability…to project power globally and here Syria plays a very important role…the Soviet Union hammered out a basing arrangement [with Bashar Assad’s father Hafez] under which the Syrian port city of Tartus became the home port for Russia’s Mediterranean flotilla. The port of Tartus is now at least partially in peril of falling. Certainly if the Alawite [Assad’s religious sect within Shia Islam] enclave falls, Russia will lose its grip on the port city…Russia…is structuring its deployment in such a ways as to have its naval presence strengthened…the air base that the Russians are building…North of Tartus…in Latakia…is geographically intended to provide air cover for the Mediterranean flotilla as well as Assad’s force…
3 [lost in much of the media commentary] Russia is doing a lot of things in Syria because it’s not doing a lot of things elsewhere…[the Russian incursion into Ukraine isn’t going very well]…what you see is a slowing Russian case of momentum…[there is also an intention by the Russian’s to change how the West views it]…Russia hopes at least that through its intervention…[to be seen as] taking up the standard of being the West’s champion in the fight against the Islamic state’s terrorist group, Russia hopes that it can improve its…appearance in the eyes of the West…leading to greater freedom of political action…
4. And finally…and most importantly is an issue about which gets talked about the least, which is how what Russia is doing plays into Russia’s own war on terror…Russia, is for very good reason extremely apprehensive over the spread of radical Islam in the Middle East and the potential ramifications that this has for Russia’s own Muslim minority…Russia’s Muslim minority is growing at a much faster rate than the rest of Russia’s population…[currently at 15%, the trend projects that number to be at] 20% by the end of the decade…you are seeing more and more penetration of radical Islamic ideas into the borders of the Russian Federation…a good external metric of this is the fact that the Islamic State terrorist group has as its newest adherent a group called the Caucuses Emirate, this is Russia’s most potent jihadi group [formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda which has] now declared formal bay’ah to the Islamic State…[the Russians] feel very keenly the potential of the Islamic State’s expanding power to threaten them directly…[the participation of Russian jihadis within the Islamic State has tripled over the period of a year]…”
Mr. Berman also makes the point that Russia’s working relationship with Iran and Syria and therefore Shia Islam, is serving as a wedge factor, angering the country’s Muslim population which is largely Sunni.
In concluding MEF’s analysis of Mr. Berman’s briefing, Marilyn Stern [Middle East Forum Board of Governors] see’s Mr. Putin’s Middle East expedition looming as a potential disaster – “Moscow's Syria intervention seems a long term commitment that bears the hallmarks of a new Afghanistan disaster for it.”
Of course the last thing Putin or his fellow Russians wants is another Afghanistan-like debacle, but with Russia now tied down in the Ukraine as well as being increasingly sucked into the Middle East’s political/military maelstrom while its economy Teetering On The Edge Of Recession, the downside for Russia’s strongman is considerable.
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