How Putin plans to wage war in Syria

 

– Russia is embarking on its most ambitious military campaign outside former Soviet borders in more than three decades, launching airstrikes against Sunni militants. A look at Russia’s intentions, capabilities and strategy:

 

Q: What is Russia doing in Syria?

A: Putin says he’s intervening to prevent thousands of Russians now fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant from returning home and “continuing their evil doings.” He says the terrorist group can’t be defeated without the help of Assad’s military, which has lost control of about 80 percent of the country to jihadists and opposition militias backed by countries including the United States and Saudi Arabia.

 

Q: What are Putin’s immediate goals?

A: Russia’s biggest fear, shared by the U.S. and its allies, is that ISIL fighters will overrun Damascus. His immediate goal is creating a corridor stretching to the Syrian capital.

 

Q: What else is driving Putin?

A: Critics say Putin is seeking to expand Russia’s only military toehold in the Middle East to ensure he has a say in the political transition that the U.S. and its allies are demanding.

 

Q: What are Russia’s capabilities?

A: Russia has deployed at least 500 troops and some of its most advanced weaponry to an air base near Latakia. These include more than two dozen combat aircraft, as well as tanks, attack helicopters and surface-to-air missile systems.

 

Q: Where will Russia bomb?

A: Russian strikes will be aimed at helping Assad to defend core areas. Russia could also provide air support to Syrian government forces fighting non-ISIL rebels.

 

Q: How will the U.S. and its allies respond?

A: Defense Secretary Ash Carter warned that Russia’s military operation could “pour gasoline” on the conflict rather than lead to ISIL’s defeat. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that if his country cannot secure the ouster of Assad, its support for rebels fighting the Syrian leader would intensify.

 

Q: What are the military risks?

A: Putin has so far ruled out sending ground troops, but the risk of Russia overextending is real, particularly if the opposition is able to shoot down aircraft. Russian warplanes will need to fly at relatively low altitude to bomb their targets.

 

Q: Do Russians support Putin’s move?

A: Not yet. Sixty-nine percent of Russians oppose direct military intervention in Syria, according to an opinion poll conducted in September. But Russians traditionally rally around their leader in times of conflict.

Bloomberg News