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Russia Releases Dramatic Assessment Of ISIS Strikes, As US Sees "Little Green Men" In Syria

On Thursday, in “Russia, Assad Plan New Elections In Syria As US, Saudis Meet Lavrov In Vienna,” we brought you the latest on the push for a “political”, “diplomatic” solution to Syria’s civil war. 

The official line is that The Kremlin has convinced Bashar al-Assad to call for elections and to be open to working with the opposition to form a new government. Meanwhile, John Kerry says he intends to continue to hold talks with his counterparts from Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey in an effort to find a solution that’s workable and agreeable to everyone. 

Of course if one reads between the lines, the story changes materially.

Assad won’t likely lose an election and here’s why, i) he still has some genuine support among the citizenry, ii) the Assad regime is probably looking pretty good right now in the minds of Syrians compared to the bloody anarchy that’s gripped the country for the last four years, and iii) no one is going to vote against a Mid-East strongman that they know is likely to return to power. So the election gambit is simply a way for Russia to legitimize its goal of restoring Assad. 

Additionally, the talks between Kerry and his “friends” (as he calls them) amount to Russia throwing the US a kind of diplomatic lifeline. Moscow could very well refuse to talk to anyone (much as Washington has until now refused to talk to Moscow) and simply say “look, here’s how this is going to be, because you had your chance to overthrow this regime and you failed.The Kremlin is simply allowing Washington, Riyadh, and Ankara to save face by making it appear as though there’s some kind of dialogue going on. This is farcical and thanks to the fact that Sergei Lavrov has a low tolerance for farcical charades, we got a look at the true nature of the talks in the post-summit press conference. Here’s Lavrov:

"Of course, there will be speculation. The speculation appeared before this meeting even took place. I heard that the rumors are being spread already that it has been agreed on in some place or another that in some period of time Assad will step down. This is not the case,"

There you go. That being the case, it’s not even clear what there was to discuss (as an aside, there’s something rather disconcerting about other nations meeting to decide the fate of a sovereign state in the first place). 

Additionally, Moscow continued to call out Washington for not sharing intelligence and for branding certain rebel groups as “moderates.” In what probably amounts to a joke disguised as a serious suggestion, Lavrov said he’d be happy to provide airstrikes in support of The Free Syrian army (presumably as they fight extremists) if the US would be so kind as to identify the “the patriotic opposition.’” 

Meanwhile, Russia has apparently deployed special forces to Syria. Here’s WSJ:

Russia has sent a few dozen special-operations troops to Syria in recent weeks, Russian and Western officials say, redeploying the elite units from Ukraine as the Kremlin shifts its focus to supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 

“The special forces were pulled out of Ukraine and sent to Syria,“ a Russian Ministry of Defense official said, adding that they had been serving in territories in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia rebels. The official described them as “akin to a Delta Force,” the U.S. Army’s elite counterterrorism unit.

 

A senior Western official also said a contingent of elite Russian forces was on the ground in Syria from eastern Ukraine. A U.S. defense official said one of their roles is to provide coordination between Syrian troops and Russian aircraft conducting airstrikes in support of the regime’s ground offensive.

 

“The Russians are operating very closely with Syrian units,” the defense official said.

 

The Russian ministry official said the assets sent to Syria in recent weeks include the Zaslon unit, trained to protect diplomatic assets and personnel. Nearly two dozen Russian military-intelligence officers are also on site to liaise with Mr. Assad’s military intelligence, the official said.

 

“There certainly are ‘little green men’ in Syria,” the U.S. defense official said.

On that note, we leave you with the following graphics from Sputnik which map Russian airstrikes and aggregate the damage Moscow’s warplanes have inflicted on ISIS targets.