Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war continues to intensify as Russian officials indicate that “voluntary” ground troops will soon enter the region to complement the current airstrikes. The increasing number of Russian airstrikes continue to anger the United States and its allies in the Syrian conflict, especially after a Russian warplane invaded Turkey’s airspace over the weekend.
The addition of Russian ground troops severely compromises Turkey’s goal of creating a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border where Syrian refugees could return in the future.
Russian officials point out that such volunteers “cannot be stopped.”
Both Russia and Iran have ramped up their efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By attacking Syrian groups that wish to remove al-Assad from office, Russia is effectively waging battles against groups backed and supported by the United States, Turkey and their allies. Several rebel factions who oppose al-Assad released a statement Monday that Russia’s “brutal occupation has cut the road to any political solution.”
Russia’s escalation of its military efforts in the region is happening simultaneously as the United States increases its efforts to thwart ISIS militant groups. Although both countries seek to destroy ISIS, the two differ in their definition of “terrorists.” Russia has stated that in addition to fighting ISIS, it is also attacking several rebel groups fighting al-Assad. Therein lies a major problem.
With respect to the Russian jet that flew over Turkish airspace, Turkish fighter jets quickly intercepted the warplane and escorted it out of the country. NATO issued a stern warning to Russia as the United States urgently consulted with Turkey.
NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg stated that Russia’s “mistake” was “an unacceptable violation” of Turkish airspace and that “Russia’s actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region.”
One American official opined that, “I don’t believe this was an accident. Along with quite a bit of Russia’s behavior, this just affirms our deep concern over what they’re doing,” and that Russia’s behavior “raises questions about basic safe conduct in the skies.”
Another official called Russia’s behavior “deliberately provocative.”
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan echoes these sentiments and told reporters over the weekend that, “The steps Russia is taking and the bombing campaign in Syria are quite unacceptable to Turkey. Unfortunately, Russia is making a grave mistake.”
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu indicated that Russia said its violation of Turkish airspace was a mistake and that it would not happen again. Davutoglu told reporters that, “I should express it clearly, even if it is Syria, Russia or any other country’s planes, Turkey’s military engagement rules are valid for all.”
Despite all the warnings, Russia does not indicate any willingness to back down. Russian official Andrei Kartapolov told reporters that, “Our airstrikes will not only continue, but grow in intensity.”
It remains to be seen how the the world’s two biggest superpowers will resolve their differences.