Russia: Against ISIS, or Using ISIS?

by ma_fmartel on February 8, 2016 - 8:30pm

Syria is now in great needs of help, and it might not change soon. The United States of America, teamed with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, started supporting Syrian rebels in the civil war against their president, Bashar al-Assad. As if it wasn’t enough, the terrorist group ISIS joined the party, trying to establish their reign of terror across Syria and Iraq.

On September 30, 2015, Russian-led intervention began. As of today, one cannot affirm that Russians have been of great help in Syria. In fact, Russia might be using ISIS as a sort of camouflage for their interventions which are seldom pleasing the US and NATO. Why, you ask?

First of all, Russia doesn’t seem to be against the dictatorship of al-Assad, Syria being their main Middle-East ally.

Secondly, Russian airstrikes are generally more deadly for civilians and rebels than for ISIS members. ‘‘About 70% of the 5,000 air strikes carried out by Russia since it began its air offensive in Syria on 30 September hit rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, rather than supporting the efforts of the US-led coalition against Isis, the US official told reporters in Brussels. (Reuters)’’ That important statistic also explains why the migration flow is constantly increasing, creating a huge humanitarian problem.

Thirdly, Russia is somehow including its own purpose into this war. On November 24, 2015, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian jet flying the Turkey-Syria border area. (BBC) Russia somewhat answered to that attack by bombarding Turkey-Syria borders, touching as well rebels supply lines and civilian infrastructure. (Bertrand)

To sum up, it would not be wrong to affirm that Russia is in some sort using the ISIS crisis as an excuse for their intervention against rebels. Moscow has itself claimed that it is not ‘‘deliberately targeting anyone other than "terrorists."(Bertrand)’’

Concerning the cost in resources, opposite affirmations have come out. Putin itself says "It's hard to imagine a better exercise, […] [and] we can train there for a long time without any serious harm to our budget." On the other hand, Andrei Korobkov, professor of post-Soviet relations at Middle Tennessee State University, says that the airstrikes are a ‘‘tremendous drain on Russian resources’’. He also confirms that, by doing so, Putin showed that Russia has again a major power and can become a key player in Middle-East. (Bertrand)

On one side, we have the West, associated with the NATO, working hard for the last 5 years to get rid of al-Assad’s dictatorship, offering Syria a more prosperous country, and to get rid of the ISIS, while on the other side we have Russia, who has a pretty good influence on Bashar al-Assad, serving its own will, hiding under the circumstances of the war against ISIS.

Will one day Russia go in the same direction as the US and NATO? Probably. If Russia uses its influence on al-Assad, forcing Syrian army to focus more on ISIS militants, then perhaps the problem will be solved more rapidly. (Sotnikov) But for now, we’ll have to wait until Russia proves it is ready to help in a more convenient way.


Works Cited

BBC. ‘‘Turkey’s downing of Russian warplane – what we know’’ BBC News. BBC, 1 December 2015. Web. 8 February 2016.

Bertrand, Natasha. ‘‘‘We’ve never been bombarded like this’: Russia’s military campaign in Syria has escalated to new levels’’ Business Insider. Business Insider, 22 December 2015. Web. 8 February 2016.

Reuters. ‘‘Russian bombing in Syria ‘fuels refugee crisis’ says US official as airstrike kills 39’’ The Guardian. The Guardian, 9 January 2016. Web. 9 February 2016.

Sotnikov, Vladimir. ‘‘Here is why Russia and the U.S. might team up to fight ISIS’’ Russia Direct. Russia Direct, 16 Septembre 2014. Web. 8 February 2016.


I really liked reading your perspective on the Russian intervention in Syria. I share your view on the matter. It seemed apparent to me that Putin took the opportunity of the ISIS threat, as well as the downing of the Russian fighter jet on the Turkey-Syria border, to increase military presence in Syria and finally have a means of helping his friend al-Assad. I think Putin was convinced he could intervene against the rebels, as the primary target over ISIS, and sufficiently weaken the rebels before the international community would even have time to react in a meaningful way. Russia has now pulled out of Syria, and the negotiations are significantly different today than they would have been a year ago, with al-Assad in the position of the victor. I recently wrote a post on NewsActivist about the Syrian conflict, you could check it out if you’d like at In it, I explain the evolution of the Syrian conflict, which you mentioned in your post.

I just wanted to add something to that post. The western world has been hearing a lot of things related to Russia being the bad guys ever since the cold war, but now the U.S.'s interventions in such countries is believed to be as useless and harmful for those countries as the Russian interventions you mentioned. Also, some of the facts you presented about the bombings targeting innocents are probably very inaccurate (it is hard to evaluate such details from a country that hides most of it's military power related information). Many would call this Anti-Russian propaganda coming from the U.S., but of course it works the other way around aswell being Pro-Russian Propaganda.