Russian Troops In Syria?

Russia may be getting more involved in the Syrian conflict.

A troubling and potentially game-changing development in the year long crackdown on dissidents in Syria:

A Russian military unit has arrived in Syria, according to Russian news reports, a development that a United Nations Security Council source told ABC News was “a bomb” certain to have serious repercussions.

Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government’s violent crackdown on the country’s uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council’s attempts to halt the violence, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to start another war.

Now the Russian Black Sea fleet’s Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency.

At the same time we’re getting this report, though, there’s other news that would seem to be designed to make Russia appear more conciliatory regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria:

Russia has joined the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in calling for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Syria.

In a statement, the foreign ministry called on the government “and all armed groups who oppose it” to agree to ceasefires “without delay”.

Russia has twice vetoed Western-backed draft resolutions on Syria at the UN Security Council.

Its call came hours after clashes erupted in part of the Syrian capital.

The head of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, had travelled to Moscow to discuss a ceasefire arrangement with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The organisation says a daily pause in fighting is needed to evacuate the wounded and to allow in food and medicine from the worst-affected areas.

Russia is a key ally of Syria and, along with China, has thwarted attempts to agree to a UN resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s actions.

The BBC’s Moscow correspondent says today’s announcement could be interpreted as a hardening of Russia’s public position on Syria, though Moscow has been calling for a permanent ceasefire on both sides for months.

It’s been clear for a long time now that the Russians are protecting, and arming, the Assad government. But it strikes me that there’s a profound difference between exercising a Security Council veto or sending arms and sending actual military advisers into the country while Bashar Assad continues to mow down his own people. It is, perhaps, an attempt by the Russians to send a message to the rest of the world about intervening, and the costs that could result therefrom. After all, is anyone really going to want to risk finding out what would happen if members of the Russian Army ended up getting killed in an attack on Assad’s forces? Perhaps what we’re seeing here is an effort by the Russians to carve out a role for themselves as a negotiator in this conflict, although it’s hard to see how they would be able to carry that role out with any credibility given the fact that they have clearly taken sides in this conflict.

I’m not sure where this is headed now, but it strikes me that this could be a dangerous and provocative move.

Photo via ABC News

FILED UNDER: Middle East, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    If it makes U.S. intervention less likely, then I’m all for the Roosians going to Syria.

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    I’m not sure where this is headed now, but it strikes me that this could be a dangerous and provocative move.

    But then Doug you’ve said many times that we have no vital interests at stake here and we shouldn’t be concerned by any strengthening of their respective positions in the area by Russia or China.

  3. OldSouth says:

    This is not happy news, although it could potentially lead to the Russians getting themselves again bogged down in a land war in a Moslem country. That worked out well last time, if memory serves.

  4. @Brad Williams:

    Actually I’m pretty sure we’ll do nothing. Not that I think we should do anything, mind you.

  5. @Brummagem Joe:

    We don’t but once one Great Power gets involved in a conflict like this, one never knows what might happen.

  6. @OldSouth:

    You do raise a good point. From a geographic point of view, Russia arguably has more to worry about in stirring up Islamic resentment than we do

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Well, I don’t think it’s a case of the bear emerging from its hibernation. That ship sailed and sank in the late-1980’s. I’d say it’s simply a power vacuum getting filled. This is low-hanging fruit for Putin on which to dine and there’s no realistic chance of a dustup with the West. Syria is not Libya (the former does not possess oil) and the Obama administration is busy frying other fish and now in any event is in full campaign mode. Overall I’m actually surprised Russia hasn’t already done something along these lines.

  8. Russ says:

    The IRGC and Syria by extension have been Moscow’s pawns for a long time. It may not be a honeymoon relationship, but all you have to do is follow the money and military supplies to see what’s what.

    A cease-fire position is ipso natura a pro-regime position. It sounds objective, but isn’t.

  9. @Brad Williams:

    The American government wont allow the Russians to destroy whats left of the Syrian peoples right to some sort of freedom from Adolf Assad.

    Sure we will. There’s no way we’re gonna start a war with Russia over Syria. And the comparison of Assad to Hitler is absurd. Syria is simply not a global threat no matter how murderous Assad becomes.

  10. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    We don’t but once one Great Power gets involved in a conflict like this, one never knows what might happen.

    What does this mean Doug?

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Well, I don’t think it’s a case of the bear emerging from its hibernation. That ship sailed and sank in the late-1980′s. I’d say it’s simply a power vacuum getting filled.

    You just contradicted yourself in two successive sentences Nick. Is this a record? LOL.

  12. John Miller says:

    If the U.S. can mediate the Arab-Israeli dispute while clearly and consistently taking Israel’s side, why can’t the Russians, who have been no where near as lopsided in their dealings as has the U.S.?

  13. @John Miller:

    Yea and how well has that worked out?

  14. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    We don’t but once one Great Power gets involved in a conflict like this, one never knows what might happen.

    Doug I’m still waiting for you to explain what this means in the context of US interests in the middle east

  15. @Brummagem Joe:

    I am not saying that it does. However, history is replete with examples of events forcing nations to act in ways that are both irrational and not really in their national interest (see e.g., World War One)

  16. Hasselhoff says:

    Oh good send help to crush those peaceful protesters. Wow. Assad is insane. This will do more harm than good. Syria is the cause of the whole mid east going into war.

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    However, history is replete with examples of events forcing nations to act in ways that are both irrational and not really in their national interest (see e.g., World War One)

    But then Obama is not Berchtold. And none of the countries that launched WW I were forced to do it and not all of them were irrational. Austria Hungary certainly, Germany and Russia maybe, France and Belgium didn’t have any choice they were invaded, and Britain’s decision was costly but entirely rational.

  18. @Brummagem Joe:

    Yes, that’s right. In your world, Barack Obama is the most intelligent human being ever to walk the planet and the Best. President. Ever.

    If you don’t think he isn’t liable to make bad decisions that lead to disaster at some point, then you are being incredibly naive.

  19. Dazedandconfused says:

    The Russians laid a lot of credibility on the table. Their position is that a negotiated settlement is possible, and would be far less bloody than a revolution in Syria.

    They could be “tending to their bet” here.

    I do not see any advantage for Russia to fulfill the dark images that old cold-warriors like McCain still (and will take to the grave) harbor of them. Most assessments of the situation I’m seeing are that the Assad regime’s forces are more than sufficient and loyal enough to be as brutal as anybody could hope them to be.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, that’s right. In your world, Barack Obama is the most intelligent human being ever to walk the planet and the Best. President. Ever.

    Oh please, spare us the strawman argument, Doug…no one is saying what you wrote, but the President has shown himself to be cautious, so it is hard to see under what circumstances he would involve our country in the Syrian mess…

  21. CB says:

    @An Interested Party:

    one could have said the same thing about potential involvement in libya prior to the no fly zone.

    im not necessarily making a value judgement one way or the other, just pointing out that entanglement in ‘irrelevant’ foreign conflicts isnt exactly impossible, even under obama.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    …one could have said the same thing about potential involvement in libya prior to the no fly zone.

    But that’s just the point…did the Libya intervention involve putting American troops on Libyan soil? I wonder if the Obama Administration would have have gotten involved in Libya if that kind of entanglement had been needed…

  23. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Yes, that’s right. In your world, Barack Obama is the most intelligent human being ever to walk the planet and the Best. President. Ever.

    I said he wasn’t Count von Berchtold not the Great Jehovah and it produces this outburst. I’m beginning to think you’re suffering from ODS Doug. The one thing that Obama has demonstrated is extreme caution in foreign affairs which is why the Israelis and AIPAC are so ticked with him.The chances of him embroiling himself in another middle east war are substantially less than say Romney most of whose foreign policy advisors are the same neocon idiots who created the Afghan and Iraq debacles (or has this escaped your notice?) and his supporters in the media are universally people like Krauthammer, Kristol and co who can’t wait to start another middle east war.

  24. JohnMcC says:

    It seems to me that the Russian calculation begins with the importance to them of a secure port on the Mediterranean. If Assad wins and they have done a certain minimum for him (Security Council vetoes), their privileges in Tartus are safe. If they do no more than the minimum and Assad loses, they don’t need much more than a minor defensive ring around their docks to ensure their position is maintained after the chaos of regime change.

    They have had so much fun in Afghanistan and Chechnya, I scarcely think they want another taste. And if they had to fight a new non-Assad government there would be several ways for NATO and US interests to work against their rights to hold their only port on the Med.

    They’re not serious players in the Syrian uprising.

  25. Brummagem Joe says:

    @JohnMcC:

    They’re not serious players in the Syrian uprising.

    Apart from arming Assad’s regime you mean and thereby enabling him to survive. They sound pretty serious to me.

  26. John Miller says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Horribly, and that’s my point.

  27. John Miller says:

    @Hasselhoff: “Peaceful protesters”? Now please, Sir! You might wish to take a gander over at Bahrain if use the protesters there as an example of peaceful protesters. Let’s be honest now. The Syrian “protesters” were from the very start, armed and militarized.

  28. John Miller says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I voted for him, yet agree wholeheartedy with what you’ve said. I’ll vote for him again too, unless Ron Paul is available…

  29. John Miller says:

    @Brummagem Joe: Agreed!

  30. John Miller says:

    @John Miller: “Peaceful protesters”? Now please, Sir! You might wish to take a gander over at Bahrain and use the protesters there as an example of peaceful protesters. Let’s be honest now. The Syrian “protesters” were from the very start, armed and militarized.

  31. Bart Velarde says:

    To understand what is truly happening on the ground we need to look at things from a global perspective v. national.

    According to a newly released book THE CASE the Middle East conflict (including the Syrian Revolution) continues unabated on the surface of the planet earth as the former colonies of Western Europe revolted and achieved their freedom and independence in the international community of the world.