Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has explained how the government is deciding where its airstrikes hit in Syria.
Dmitry Peskov said Russia is targeting ISIS and “other groups,” telling reporters: “These organisations are well known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria.”
The “armed forces of Syria” fight on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the US has said must step aside if the terror group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State) is to be defeated.
And as the Associated Press notes, the Assad regime considers all of his opposition to be terrorists.
Experts have said that Russia’s prime concern is propping up the Assad regime against nationalist rebels and maintaining its influence in the region rather than stomping out extremists.
Russia started bombing targets on Wednesday, avoiding ISIS strongholds and instead going after areas held by other rebels who are fighting the Assad regime. Airstrikes hit areas near Homs and Hama.
Julia Ioffe, a Foreign Policy columnist who’s an expert on Russia, noted on Twitter that Russia is “pushing from Assad’s front line.”
Assad has pushed this narrative in the hopes of positioning himself as the last bulwark against a jihadist takeover of his country. And even if Assad is eventually pushed out of power, a strong Russian presence in Syria would give the Russians more leverage in determining who succeeds him — and in how that successor views Russia.
Boris Zilberman, a Middle East and Russia expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider that “Russian intervention in Syria has been and will continue to be about two things: Propping up their client — Bashar Al-Assad and expanding their military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and expanding Russian influence and power projection in the Middle East.”
The targets hit on Wednesday support this thesis.
“The Homs area is crucial to Assad’s control of western Syria,”Reuters explains. “Insurgent control of that area would bisect the Assad-held west, separating Damascus from the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous, where Russia operates a naval facility.”
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