How Russia Controls American
By Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan
February 12, 2016
We’ve seen this movie—now
playing in Syria– before.
The Russians have developed a way
of getting the US formally to permit offensive Russian military operations
against American partners on the ground, all the while calling it a ceasefire.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry
Medvedev answers a question from the audience at the Munich Security Conference
in Munich, Germany, February 13, 2016. Reuters
What the Russians are proposing in
Syria—a “cessation of hostilities” on terms they get to define– is
exactly what they have been doing in Eastern Ukraine for more than a year.
The Minsk II accords, signed in
February 2015 between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, with the US in
support, supposedly established a “cessation of hostilities” across all of
Ukraine. But Russian proxies on the ground, with active Russian support,
have continued to attack Ukrainian positions while loudly blaming the Ukrainians
for violating the ceasefire.
Then as now, humanitarian concerns
were a prime motive. The West thought the Ukraine ceasefire would keep
pro-Russian forces from seizing the town of Debal’tseve, then under siege.
But Russian proxies took Debal’tseve three days after the ceasefire came
Putin will use exactly the same
techniques in Syria to achieve a similar objective—the weakening or
destruction of opposition forces the US has been supporting.
This matters, because Aleppo is
one of the last few bastions for opposition groups that offers any hope of a
future Syria that is neither brutally oppressed by Assad nor controlled by al
Qaeda and/or ISIS.
The Russians, of course, claim
that all of the groups in northern Syria are al Qaeda or ISIS or their allies.
That claim is a lie.
The opposition in Aleppo includes
groups that the US has been supporting. Several of those groups have
received TOW missiles from the US, indicating that they have passed a rigorous
vetting process designed to ensure that those weapons will not end up in the
hands of ISIS and al Qaeda.
The Russian false claim that it is
fighting terrorists is a cynical device to conceal Putin’s real aim, which is
to re-establish the vicious dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in order to
guarantee Russia’s possession of air and naval bases on the Mediterranean
What will happen next?
Here’s a version of the worst
case. Syrian forces, heavily supported by Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shi’a
militias, and Iranian troops, still backed by extensive Russian air strikes,
will continue their offensive operations around Aleppo, further isolating the
opposition in that city and expanding the Assad regime’s control.
They will also continue to strike
civilian targets in the area, creating additional tens of thousands of
internally-displaced people and increasing the refugee flow to Turkey.
Secretary Kerry will no doubt
launch strong protests with the Kremlin over this issue, but the Obama
administration will take no other action.
The regime will thus complete its
encirclement of Aleppo and proceed to the destruction of the groups the US has
been supporting–all in the name of a process that the US has just agreed to.
The net result will be the further
weakening of any moderate opposition the US could work with and the
strengthening of al Qaeda, ISIS, and their allies.
For one thing, these military
operations will disproportionately damage the remaining opposition without
striking areas that sustain ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria.
For another, they will powerfully
reinforce the claims made by ISIS and al Qaeda that the US has thrown in
completely with Assad and will support the dictator’s efforts to crush the
Sunni population, and that ISIS and al Qaeda alone are the Sunni defenders.
In this way, the Russians will
make their lies come true.
We have watched the Russians
execute this playbook in Ukraine for more than a year. The Russians have
actually published descriptions of how they manipulate the West in precisely
this fashion and that they have made it their policy to do so.
Manipulating the US to support
Russia’s aims is, in fact, Putin’s primary goal and purpose.
It is astonishing that anyone who
has participated in this scenario in Ukraine over the last year could imagine
that the outcome will be different in Syria this time.
And yet, at Foggy Bottom and in
the White House, they apparently do.