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Overnight, we brought you the latest on the “friggin mess” (to quote the Pentagon) that is Syria, where Bashar al-Assad is desperately clinging to power while his depleted army fights a three-front war against a dizzying array of “freedom fighters”, jihadists, former CIA strategic assets, current CIA strategic assets, the Kurds, and god only knows who else.
The Assad regime is (literally) surrounded by hostile states who are angling for his ouster and if you had any lingering doubts about why it is that everyone wants Syria’s strongman gone, look no further than this map:
Note the purple line which traces the proposed Qatar-Turkey natural gas pipeline and note that all of the countries highlighted in red are part of a new coalition hastily put together after Turkey finally (in exchange for NATO’s acquiescence on Erdogan’s politically-motivated war with the PKK) agreed to allow the US to fly combat missions against ISIS targets from Incirlik. Now note which country along the purple line is not highlighted in red. That’s because Bashar al-Assad didn’t support the pipeline and now we’re seeing what happens when you’re a Mid-East strongman and you decide not to support something the US and Saudi Arabia want to get done.
Of course if that pipeline gets built, it means Gazprom’s leverage over Europe is over and that’s bad news for Vladimir Putin and for Vladimir Putin’s personal money vault which is why Russia has so far stood behind Assad and also explains why now, the Russian military is operating in Syria alongside regime forces.
But make no mistake, the Kremlin isn’t naive enough to miss the writing on the wall. Restoring the Assad of yesteryear likely isn’t an option here unless the Russians intend to take this all the way and engage in open combat with the US and its regional allies. Instead, it looks like Russia will do the following: send in the military using the very same excuse that everyone else has used (i.e. fighting ISIS, which at this point has been reduced to the scapegoat everyone uses whenever they want to do something that’s otherwise absurd) while hoping against hope that some manner of political compromise can be found that keeps Assad in power. On that latter point, we go to Bloomberg:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to early parliamentary elections and to share some power with his opponents, a concession that may facilitate a broader international coalition against Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
Russia would consider participating in the coalition and the Russian president has already discussed the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Putin told reporters in Vladivostok on Friday. Russia has been pushing for a wider campaign against Islamic State that would include Assad, something the U.S. and Europe have opposed.
Russian Military Forces Arrive In Syria, Set Forward Operating Base Near Damascus
The most anticipated showdown in recent history or a load of bullcrap? (Saker rant)
So now we have the ‘evidence’.
First, we have 4 grainy photos from an al-Nusra linked Twitter account:
Second, we have this confirmation from the White House via Zero Hedge:
Then earlier today we got the closest thing to a confirmation from the White House itself which confirmed that “it was closely monitoring reports that Russia is carrying out military operations in Syria, warning such actions, if confirmed, would be “destabilising and counter-productive.” Obama spokesman Joshn Earnest essentially confirmed Russia was already operating in Syria when he said that “we are aware of reports that Russia may have deployed military personnel and aircraft to Syria, and we are monitoring those reports quite closely.”
I have a few questions about this “evidence”:
Since when are ‘tweets’ from an al-Nusra linked account a credible source of information?
Since when is the White House a credible source of information?
How can you tell when/where the photos above were taken?
What do you see on these photos – MiG-29, SU-27, SU-34s or MiG-31s?
As for the articles, they quote all these aircraft, but also Russian helicopters, Russian ships in Tartus, while the White House speaks of “military flights”. And on the basis of all that, Zero Hedge speaks of the “most anticipated showdown in recent history“.
Now I want to make something unambiguously clear: I am NOT, repeat, NOT affirming that there is no Russian military operation going on. It is *possible* that there is some kind of Russian military operation going on. But what I am saying is that there is a huge conceptual distance between “possible” and “likely” and that, at this point in time, there is exactly zero evidence for such an operation.
There is also the problem of Occam’s razor here. While the pseudo-evidence presented here could be interpreted as the sign of a Russian military operation, there is a much simpler explanation: Daesh is in trouble, the US and Israel are trying to muddy the waters and blame it all on Putin (what else is new?), these photos were taken somewhere in the Ukraine and as for the Russian military flights to Damascus, they are just the now routine military assistance which Russia has been providing for years. End of story.
Again, maybe tomorrow or in a week we will be shown some halfway credible proof of a Russian military operation and there will be some who will say that “haha, the Saker was wrong and we were right”. Okay, but I much rather be “wrong” because I refuse to accept pseudo-evidence from thoroughly discredited sources than to be “right” because I accepted such evidence. My “job” is to deal with the “right here, right now” – not make wild guesses and bask in self-congratulatory delight when once every now and then my wild guesses happen to be correct. I rather be wrong for the right reasons then be right for the wrong ones.
One more thing: on these photos I personally see what might be a MiG-29 and a SU-27 (both are almost useless for CAS, but nevermind that). I most definitely see no SU-34 or MiG-31. Not only that, but not a single article or photo ever mentions SU-24s and SU-25 which, in my humble opinions, would be much more logical choices.
At this point in time I am calling “the most anticipated showndown in history” a total load of bullcrap. And if tomorrow proves me wrong, at least it will be for the right reasons
PS: I just checked the Russian media and they say that 2 things might explain these rumors:
1) There is Russian military personnel currently in Tartus unloading military equipment for delivery to the Syrian Army. Some Syrians might have mistaken this military personnel for a expeditionary force.
2) The Israelis are angry at Russia over Iran and they are retaliating by spreading these rumors.
Makes sense to me.
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