But that Moscow might actually be objectively helping ISIS defeat a common enemy by acting as air support for the jihadists’ ground assaults against U.S. proxies is less well understood, even though it fits with predictions warning that Putin’s adventure in the Levant was never going to be counterterrorist in nature.
Rather, this Russian adventure was designed to fortify a faltering client regime, possibly help it regain lost territory, and above all eliminate any credible threat to its legitimacy or long-term rule which, for the moment, ISIS does not pose.
“It’s clear that Russia’s strategy in Syria is to make the conflict binary by giving Syrians only two choices: Assad or ISIS,” said John Schindler, a former U.S. intelligence analyst and occasional Daily Beast contributor. “Attacks on the FSA, while encouraging defections to the regime, are a key component of how Russia operationalizes its strategy for Syria. Russia has excellent intelligence on Syria, especially from signals intelligence, and is using this to target FSA and others in a manner that the U.S. government can do little about now. Joint operations with ISIS are to be expected, some with intent, some by default, and should not surprise given the extent of regime intelligence penetration of [ISIS].”