The Syrian puzzle has officially become more complicated. As reported on Friday, fighter jets have arrived at Russia’s burgeoning airbase outpost south of the western port city of Latakia in Syria. New satellite images unveil exactly what type of fighters Russia has deployed: four advanced Su-30SM Flankers.
The Su-30SM is an advanced multi-role Su-27 Flanker variant loosely equivalent to an F/A-18F or F-15E. The aircraft includes forward canards and three-dimensional thrust vectoring, making it extremely maneuverable for its size. It is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in Russia’s inventory with updated avionics and a wide array of weapons at its disposal. Sixty of the jets are planned to be delivered to Russian forces by next year.
The fighters are a big boost to Russia’s growing arsenal in Syria, which includes tanks, APCs, artillery and a handful of attack and transport helicopters.
Strangely enough, the arrival of the Su-30SM jets have pushed the U.S. and Russia militaries to open up high-level communications, something that has been on hold for over a year and was a symbol of how chilly things had become between the two governments.
Now it seems there may be a chance for an unlikely alliance between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to fighting ISIS, with the Sunday Express reporting that Secretary of State John Kerry stated:
“Would we welcome Russian help in going against Isil? Obviously. We have talked about it for some period of time... But the other part of the equation is Assad and how you resolve the fact that he is a magnet for foreign fighters to come to the region.”
Just as Kerry said, Assad remains the sticking point in this whole situation. Russia’s military presence in Assad’s territory is as much a blocking maneuver to ensure that Assad stays in power, or at least is ushered out under terms that Russia aggrees with, than it is one to help erradicate ISIS. Hopefully some sort of agreement can be made that can bring Russia into the anti-ISIS offensive and also provides a transition of power in Syria.
Yet the question remains, who exactly would be fit to take over the reigns of such a troubled and fragmented country if Assad were removed from power?
Additionally, if a peaceful transfer of power were possible, what would happen to Assad and his henchmen? It is doubtful that moderate Syrians who oppose Assad would be fine with him living lavishly in Russia under asylum. There are war crimes that some in the international community want him and his subordinates to answer for.
With Russia’s recent movements on the Syrian geopolitical and military chess board there is the potential for great breakthroughs and great perils. If Russia is really interested in transitioning Assad out of power and in fighting ISIS, then it may be the best opportunity the U.S. has had at doing both in years. Also, the intense cooperation on a military and political level that would be required to do so could help thaw the icy and increasingly perilous U.S.-Russian relationship.
On the other hand, if Russia simply looks to play the role of hollow peace-broker to appease the international community while it turns and pummels anyone opposing Assad, moderate freedom fighters included, U.S.-Russian tensions could rapidly rise. Such actions would also make it harder for the U.S. and its coalition to fight ISIS in Syria, and as such it could turn Syria into the first official proxy war of a new Cold War.
Photos via AP aside from Su-30SM air-to-air photo via Alex Beltyukov/wikicommons