The Western media write that Vladimir Putin has surprised the world and made everyone wonder about his plans. What has he achieved by doing this?
First, he had to save Bashar al-Assad, whose government was becoming weaker every day. If Russia allowed him to fall, it would have been four years wasted on supporting a loser. It was unacceptable. It’s clear now that al-Assad is safe, for the time being, and that Putin has not given up his partner. Whatever happens next, ISIS will not occupy Damascus, as Russia will supply al-Assad with everything he needs to defend his capital.
Second, ISIS has been denounced as a global threat, and now a leader has told the world that we need to join forces to defeat a common enemy. Who can reject such an offer? The West can, because it wants al-Assad to go, but history will take its revenge on those who missed the chance. The blame won’t be on Russia.
Third, ISIS poses a threat to Russia in the long term. Hence, Russians will most likely support the proposal to fight it now. Of course, Russians won’t approve of a land operation with its inevitable casualties – who would agree to send our boys to die helping some Arabs fight some other Arabs? But an air operation is quite acceptable.
The Arab countries see that Russia has returned to the Middle East after leaving it in the early 1970s. As for the world in general, it knows that disregarding Russia when dealing with serious international issues, or treating it as an outcast over Crimea and Donbass is a naïve and impractical policy.
The Syrian deadlock is unlikely to be resolved. Russia will not send its land forces in, and air strikes cannot win the war. The only positive result so far is that Putin has guaranteed the safety of the so-called Alawite bastion, that is, the territory al-Assad controls, and so has saved his government. But Putin also said that Russia would only deliver air strikes during a Syrian army offensive. Can al-Assad’s army launch an offensive to liberate the ISIS-held part of Syria? This is a big question.
Moreover, the Syrian army is fighting not only and not so much ISIS but also other Islamic groups plus its own moderate opposition, which is supported by the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. If Russian aircraft start bombing their positions, Moscow will have more problems with the West and the Arab countries.
Next, there are almost always civilian casualties in air strikes delivered at terrorists, which will damage Russia’s image in the Muslim world. In a worst-case scenario, ISIS will not be defeated, and so the only result for Moscow would be paying a very high price for saving al-Assad.