Russia’s air and missile attacks against Ukrainian airbases and other military targets in the western part of the country have come under increasing scrutiny today as Western governments attempt to decipher the purpose behind those attacks. To be fair, the target set was made up of legitimate military targets. Civilian areas were not deliberately placed in the crosshairs. The timing and location of one attack are the factors causing worry in Western circles.
One attack came against a military installation near the western city of Lviv, a short distance from the Ukraine-Polish border, and a major crossing point for Ukrainian refugees over the past three weeks. The area is also a transit point for convoys carrying Western arms. Earlier last week, Russia issued a stern warning to the United States and its allies that the Russian military will regard the convoys as legitimate targets of war. The warning was largely ignored or minimized by the US and NATO, at least on the surface. Last night’s attacks on targets in western Ukraine can’t be disregarded so easily, seeing how they too contained a more overt message for the West to cease the overt resupply and rearming efforts in Ukraine. Call it a shot across NATO’s bow or a warning. I prefer to view it as a message job where the meaning was anything but hidden or minimized.
It remains to be seen whether the United States and its allies get the message. If Russia believes its efforts have failed, expect to see a convoy carrying arms and supplies east from Poland to Ukraine attacked in the coming days.
Author’s Note: I’ve been out of the loop for much of the weekend catching up on work and enjoying some college basketball since this is Selection Sunday. 😊 Some additional news is coming out concerning the Lviv strike and Russia’s reasoning for it. I’ll talk about that either tonight, or tomorrow morning in a Ukraine Update. –Mike
The United States and Russia are slated to hold another round of talks on deconfliction methods today. The talks come after it was revealed that US and Russian warplanes came within a short distance of each other over Syria this weekend. Russia’s air campaign, such as it is, has thus far included a number of highly visible incidents that exemplify the situation in the air over Syria. It is encouraging to see that the US and Russia are making an effort to minimize the dangers to their aircrews and avoid an incident that might potentially involve shooting. Whether the effort results in safer skies remains to be seen, however.
The Russian air campaign has strengthened Bashar al-Assad and his forces. Syrian government forces, along with Iranian and Hezbollah troops are massing in preparation for an offensive to regain control of Aleppo. Right now, sections of the city are held by government and rebel forces while ISIS has hold on some of the rural areas outside of the city. The coming offensive is hardly a secret. Preparations are underway on the ground and have been relatively visible. According to sources, the attack will begin soon and expand a government-led ground offensive against rebel forces in the Hama province further west.
With the Syrians expanding operations on the ground under the protection of Russian air cover and support, the United States is feeling pressure to build and engage in an effective Syrian policy. So far, that has not happened. US involvement in Syria continues to be confined to airstrikes against ISIS and airdrops of ammunition and supplies for moderate rebel groups. The decision to scrap its training program for rebels was the right move to make since the training program was not effective. Something more is going to be needed.
As time goes on, the US goal of an al-Assad free Syria is becoming less and less likely. Russian airstrikes are increasingly targeting US supported rebel groups. The United States needs to find a way to bolster the power of these groups in order for them to survive until perhaps a new US strategy evolves. Along with ammunition, additional anti-aircraft weapons should be supplied. Namely, the latest model of the Stinger man portable surface to air missile.
*Short update today. I apologize for that. Another will be posted tomorrow.*
Escalation is a difficult animal to control, even in the most favorable scenarios. The only true way to avoid a dangerous escalation is not to escalate at all. There are too many variables present in the real world to upset the balance and turn a crisis into a regional war or worse. In short, escalation is a slippery slope and once a nation-state loses its footing anything can happen.
In the case of Syria, we’re talking about an escalation of hostilities in both the political and military contexts. The conflict escalated on the military side today with the Russian airstrikes against opposition forces in northwest Syria. Russia claims the strikes were targeting ISIS held areas, however, US officials have repudiated that claim, saying that so far the Russian strikes do not appear to be against ISIS controlled territory. US Defense Dept. officials have said that Russian fighters hit targets in Homs and Hama. There is no ISIS presence in either area.
Politically, the situation in Syria is running the danger of turning away from an action against ISIS and escalating towards a potential stand-off between the United States and Russia. As mentioned above, there is serious doubt about what opposition group Russian aircraft were actually targeting. As the strikes were launched, Russia requested that the US keep its aircraft away from Syrian airspace. That request was turned down. Secretary of State John Kerry said that US and coalition forces will continue air operations in the same manner they have since the beginning of their involvement in the conflict.
So, now comes a game of diplomatic chicken with increasing stakes. Russia wants a free hand inside of Syrian airspace when it is conducting air operations. The United States will either give into the demand or it won’t. If it does, opposition groups supported by the US and coalition might find themselves targeted by Russian bombs and missiles. If the US refuses to allow Russia to control the airspace, we are looking at a situation where Russian and US aircraft are operating in close proximity and going after separate sets of targets in the same area while carrying live weapons. All it takes in a situation like that is one split second of indecision, or a miscalculation and suddenly Russian and US aircraft are shooting at each other. At that point, all bets are off.
Apologies for this post being so short. I will follow up with more this evening or early tomorrow morning.