Indirect Warfare, Direct Consequences?

For some time, I’ve wondered why on earth the Russians were committing so much in the way of military force in Syria, ostensibly in support of the government of Bashar al Assad. What do they gain by that? Especially given the ethnic fragmentation and conflicts that aren’t going to be resolved by more bombs and deaths, and which may in fact be increased by such measures? Then, there’s another question. Why is Vladimir Putin so intent on building up the Russian military at a time when Russia seems to face uncertain economic times, if not economic chaos?

In Syria the Russians have provided all manner of “aid,”including close air support; attack helicopters on the battlefield; high-precision strikes with missiles like the short-range Iskander; artillery support; special forces backup; intelligence; targeting; electronic warfare and even mine clearance. Although some of the top attack aircraft were recently flown back to Russia, attack helicopters that are less susceptible to the sandstorms that blow this time of year replaced them. A recent CNN report revealed that, in addition to first-line jet aircraft and helicopters, the Russians have also deployed modern main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and surface-to-air missile systems, not to mention a satellite-based missile guidance system.

On May 10th, Putin himself stated, “Since the start of the operation, Aerospace Forces planes have flown more than 10,000 combat missions against international terrorist facilities on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic, have conducted a large number of strikes on the territory and have engaged over 30,000 targets, including more than 200 facilities for extracting oil and refining oil and crude oil feedstock.”

Putin also noted that the conflict in Syria brought out certain problems with new Russian weapons and systems, problems which he indicated will be soon addressed. It’s almost as if the Russian Syrian initiative was as much to field test new weapons and systems as to tell the world that Russia is back on the world stage with a totally revamped military structure and posture.

At the same time, Russian attacks continue to destroy civilian targets, ostensibly in pursuit of ISIS, but in practical terms, every attack creates more refugees, and the war in Syria has created roughly five million refugees to date. In addition to the more than a million Syrian refugees already in Europe, three million have fled to Turkey, a country with already contentious social and ethnic confrontations that the flood of refugees can only exacerbate. Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people, also with a divided cultural and ethnic society, hosts over a million.

Barriers against the flood of refugees are going up all over Europe, either mental or physical ones, at a time when much of Europe faces economic difficulties, as well as where a significant number of nations have shown an overall unwillingness to markedly expand military capabilities. Add to that the fact that the United States military is already over-extended, and a majority of Americans are tired of overseas military operations that seem to offer little hope of resolution and only more American casualties.

What, indeed, could Vladimir Putin be thinking?

3 thoughts on “Indirect Warfare, Direct Consequences?”

  1. Tim says:

    I assume your last question is rhetorical.

    From where I sit, President Putin has successfully proven Russia is able to stand up against the US through this action, at the same time destabilising Europe with the displacement issues you mention, exercising (and gaining practice with) its new military hardware, being able to claim moral high-ground in targeting terrorism (bearing in mind one person’s “terrorism” is another’s “activism”) and also supporting an ally.

    The US were pioneers in pushing up defence spending in times of economic downturn since it employs so many people. So Russia may be doing the same here.

    From speaking to Russians working in the UK, Putin is highly respected back home as a result of his actions.

    If the US elect Trump as president, it looks like he may put America’s own issues ahead of solving the world’s issues at US expense. I realise there is a longer-term trade benefit through doing this and this may justify the cost. So maybe Russia is seeking the same.

    President Putin seems to be doing quite well.

  2. Robert The Addled says:

    I hadn’t considered this deeply until reading this post, but as much as I hate to consider it – it IS a form of warfare.

    Put in the assumed context it is deliberate – refugees into Europe (and presumably beyond) would have the effects of wage depression (assuming the refugees are allowed to enter the ‘normal’ workforce), resource shortages (housing, food, water, jobs), and sociopolitical unrest resulting from the aforementioned lack of good paying jobs and resource shortages.

    For good or ill – The state of Western Europe does appear to mirror some aspects of the unrest seen in the US during the various waves of immigration from Italy and Ireland. A big difference would be the apparent barriers to immigrant integration – which in my opinion is going to heighten tensions. The early United States at least had the relief valve of a frontier, and undeveloped areas of the country.

  3. Andreas says:

    I can see multiple reasons for his actions. In the first place it increases the efficiency of the Russian military; there is a huge difference between practice in a safe environment and practice in a war zone, the one gets you people who know the system, the other gets you veterans that you know can perform under pressure. With the destabilization of Europe it might lead some to form an alliance to the East rather than to the West, especially if Putin can point to Russia and show how much better it’s doing, and how Russia is willing to help while others stand on the sideline.
    Overall it’s not a bad way of becoming a superpower in the world, if one is willing to pay the price in lives lost, innocents killed…

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