In Russia’s latest move to combat ISIS, an expeditionary force has made its way to Syria and will set up in an airbase controlled by Bashar al-Assad. It is expected that Russian fighter pilots will travel to the base in the coming days. The base, located near Damascus, will serve as a Russian military forward operating base. The United States is aware of Russia’s move but continues to remain silent as it opposes both ISIS and the Al-Assad regime.
Bashar Hafez al-Assad is the President of Syria, commander-in-chief of Syrian Armed Forces, General Secretary of the ruling Ba'ath Party and Regional Secretary of the party's branch in Syria. He has been accused of war crimes and the United States has called al-Assad to step down. Moreover, Al-Assad’s regime is threatened by ISIS. Therefore, despite the American stance against al-Assad, many analysts believe that Russia’s continued support for al-Assad is all about saving its reputation and “exercising Russian influence” in Syria.
Analyst Paul Saunders commented that, “Moscow would not have much leverage over al-Assad if the Russian government attempted to persuade him to step down.”
With the support of al-Assad, Russia will send thousands of military personnel to Syria in order to battle ISIS and also to preserve al-Assad’s rule. Moreover, discussions between Russia and Iran have resulted in a strategic decision: do what it takes to preserve al-Assad’s power so that Syria may act as a physical barrier to Russia- thus preventing the spread of ISIS into former Soviet Islamic republics.
Russia’s military flying combat missions in Syria will most certainly change the existing situation in the Middle East.
In addition to the Russians working with Iran to try and defeat ISIS, the United States has also reached out to Iran to develop a plan to combat the militant fighters. It appears that the U.S. views Iran as a necessary, central force in the fight against ISIS. The American-Iranian cooperation focuses on two goals: 1) Help the province of Anbar, where Iraqis have so far failed to expel ISIS; and 2) Recapture Mosul.
Even though the United States has called for al-Assad to end his murderous regime, it has recently stopped touting this request. The United States has yet to issue any type of reaction to Russia’s intent to directly intervene in Syria in its fight against ISIS.