The Kremlin’s real goal is to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retake as much as possible of the territory his forces have lost to opponents, including U.S.-backed rebels, Russian officials say. Moscow’s deployment of several dozen planes, as well as ships in the Black and Caspian Seas, could last a year or more, one official said.
President Vladimir Putin is willing to run the risk of falling into the kind of quagmire that helped sink the Soviet Union a generation ago for the chance to roll back U.S. influence and demonstrate he can dictate terms to Washington. If the strategy is successful, Russia’s largest military drive in decades outside the former Soviet Union would force the U.S. and its allies to choose between Assad, whom they oppose for his human-rights abuses, and the brutal extremists of Islamic State…
Moscow’s campaign is designed to rout initially the groups that have threatened Assad’s control over key cities in western Syria, both radical Islamists and the so-called moderate rebels backed by the U.S. and its allies. Later will come a broader offensive against Islamic State in the north and east of the country, say officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters.
“Everybody understands that ‘terrorists’ is a very vague definition which allows Russia to target all groups it needs to fight in order to achieve the main goal — strengthen Syrian army positions and help them restore control over major cities,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a research group that advises the Russian government.