Russian warplanes have started air strikes on the positions of the Islamic state on the territory of Syria. Action is taken after request made by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Russia to provide military assistance to Syria, so for its latest move Kremlin has a valid legal support.
Military forces on the territory of a foreign state can be used only on two grounds: by the decision of UN Security Council or after the official appeal for assistance by the legal government of the country. In the case of Syria, Damascus has a formal agreement of military technical cooperation with Moscow. USA, France and Australia, whose fighter jets have also bombarded the Islamic state, but with a very questionable efficiency, lack permission for their operations, which are licensed neither by Damascus nor by the UN Security Council.
Therefore, Russia’s decision to support the forces of Bashar al-Assad with its air force in the battle against the Islamic state is a result of Moscow’s conviction that the Western countries air raids on terrorist targets in Syria are so inefficient that cause serious doubts whether this is only a facade behind the actual hidden intention to bring down the regime in Damascus. Only 6,000 flights of American aircrafts over the targets of the Islamic state is more than a modest number, and in the conditions of the desert environment, like in Iraq and Syria, combat aviation can independently obtain almost every war, which “Desert Storm” in 1991 and the war against Iraq in 2003 have already proved.
Moscow has apparently decided to activate one of the main issues of its updated military doctrine, the right to use military force outside Russia’s borders when it comes to the fight against terrorism, or when vital state or national interests of Russia are threatened. This clause has existed in the military doctrine of Russia for several years, and there is a regulation on the so-called preventive nuclear strike in the event of a conventional war, but it looks like nobody in the West cared about it. The decision of the Russian Duma to approve the use of the army outside of Russian borders is purely the legal validation of the Russian military doctrine. From the political point of view, Moscow has sent out a message to the whole world that if every point on our planet is of vital importance for the interests of US national security, and it is the official stand of Washington, then Russian has their own points of vital importance to the national and state security.
Syria is such a point, because of the Russian naval base in Tartus. This is where the Russian warships are supplied with food and fuel, and the port where the Russian warships are occasionally based. Russia is forming Mediterranean squadron of warships again (for the first time since the breakup of the USSR), therefore the port of Tartus is strategically very important. On the other hand, the Americans have recently built a naval ”point of support” in Georgia, they have enabled a Georgian port for receiving and supplying US warships operating at the Black Sea.
Russia has formed the air base at the airport near the Syrian port city of Lattakia, with at least 28 aircrafts “MiG-31” and “Su-25”, with a dozen transport helicopters “Mi-17”, as well as scout drones.
Counter-air defense of the base is supplied with the “Buk” missile system and “Pantsir-S1” in addition to the “MiG-31” aircrafts, and modernized system S-300 has probably already arrived. The base is a unit of Russian naval infantry, in the composition of the Black Sea Fleet, and the airborne forces in Russia which are on standby at any time. Recent major maneuvers of airborne forces of Russia with the transfer of particular units at distances from 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers were nothing more than an exercise for Syria, and simultaneous message to NATO and Ukraine.
Russian pilots in the Syrian sky will provide needed air umbrella over Damascus, for ground operations of the Bashar al-Assad army, as Moscow does not intend to participate in land battles. Russian planes “Su-25”, with the help of the accurate data obtained from the Russian scout drones, can cause serious losses to opponents with guided or unguided missiles and bombs, so the Syrian ground units remain with the relatively easier part of the job.
For now, Russia above all, wants to stop the military offensive of the Islamic state and the progress of its forces to the shores of the Mediterranean. They want Bashar al-Assad to be accepted by the West as a participant in the closing of the Syrian drama. The political and military moves of Moscow will be adjusted, depending on the developments on the ground.