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Why Syria Is No Second Afghanistan for Russia

The author, a respected Russian journalist, thinks Russia should intervene

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Yegor Kholmogorov is a prominent Russian journalist, part-time politician, editor of the "Russian Observer" news website and famous for coining the "Russian Spring" term describing the 2014 anti-putsch movements in the Crimea and Donbass.

In this essay, he argues that geography, the existence of a capable proxy in Assad’s army, and the fact that the US cannot publicly supply recognized terrorists in necessary quantity (ISIL), mean Russia will be militarily successful.  He further argues that check-mating the neocons in Syria will give Russia serious leverage in Ukraine.  

<figcaption>A downed Soviet helicopter in Afghanistan</figcaption>
A downed Soviet helicopter in Afghanistan

It is an argument for Russian intervention.

This article was originaly published at KP

The Bloody Genie and a Trap For Moscow

The year 1030 saw Russians at Aleppo amongst those who saved the Byzantine Emperor Romanus III from Arab captivity.  In the following year they were in

the army which captured Edessa on the Euphrates.  In his book ‘Foreign Policy of Ancient Rus’, the famous Russian historian V.T. Pashuto , remarks “The present situation is hardly anything new”. There is a striking contrast in the Middle East between the positions of Russia and that of the United States of America (particularly under the Bush I and II, and Obama Administrations) which instigated the conflicts that eventually let the bloody ISIL genie out of the bottle.  

In ancient times, as today, Russia is the supplier of arms to Damascus and contemplating the prospect of military intervention.  Thus Russia once again becomes the savior and protector of Syria, the eastern Christians and Islam itself.  

But there are many questions we must ask ourselves including whether future Russian participation in the Syrian conflict against ISIL would be desireable.  Concerns as to whether or not Syria will become another geopolitical trap for us (as happened in Afghanistan) are quite reasonable.

No Empire was able to conquer the Afghan mountains

It is frequently asked whether once again thousands of our young men will give their lives under the scorching sun and dusty terrain of a foreign country without any clear objectives, benefit to Russia or hope of victory as happened during the Soviet Union's Afghanistan War.

It is debatable whether it is worth reigniting the geopolitical game for the sake of controlling the Eastern Mediterranean base in Syria. How safe

will we be from a repetition of the Afghan trap?  To create a "new Afghanistan" type situation for Russia the United States (including its Western and NATO allies together with their Al-Qaeda and so called 'moderate opposition' proxies controlled by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar) would have to openly deploy troops in Syria and blockade the Mediterranean Sea.

[Copy Editor Comment - The US doesn't necessarily need to openly deploy troops in Syria or blockade the Mediterranean Sea. After all, this was not done during the Afghanistan War.]

Afghanistan is an isolated mountainous country which possesses few roads and many treacherous passes in which the “spirits” lay in wait for us (Soviet Army) and ambushed our convoys.

During the Afghanistan War the Soviet Army occupied the key points of the country but was stabbed in the back in the form of ambushes, surprise attacks on garrisons etc..

By the end of the war the capabilities of our helicopters were severely limited by the presence of US supplied Mujahideen "Stinger" missiles.

It proved too difficult to prevail in the mountainous Afghan terrain for many Great Empires such as the British, the Soviet Union and the United States. Their attempts to subdue the region all failed.

Flying submarines and "Cuban Missile Crisis-2"

The situation in Syria is quite different from Afghanistan.  Syria is a flat country, half of which is desert where ISIL are mostly dug in.  

There are practically no mountains to contend with in Syria.  The average height of the Afghan mountain ranges are around 5,000 meters whilst the most important mountain range in Syria, Jebel Ansari, separating the coast and the inland plateau has an average elevation of only 1,200 meters.  Much of Syria's mountains are under the control of President Assad's Syrian Arab Army.

The logistical supply routes to a potential Russian Force will not be through inhospitable mountain ranges but via sea and air.   ISIL and the so-called “Syrian opposition” will not have the means to disrupt these supplies unless the US provides them with a ‘flying submarine’ that will fly in first and lie in wait for our landing aircraft.  The Russian Navy is powerful enough to provide ongoing support to Syrian Naval bases.  If Afghanistan had been located near the coast the strategic situation there would have been much more favorable for the Soviet Union. If the United States Navy were to attempt to block Russia in the Mediterranean Sea there would not be an "Afghanistan-2" but a "Cuban Missile Crisis-2" scenario.

Aleppo has to be stormed like we did in Grozny

Finally and most importantly, Russia should not send its troops to Syria as occupying forces where they can become targets of guerrilla warfare. The Syrian Army under the legitimate Assad government should be used for ground operations, garrisons and sweeps.  The clear cut task of Russian forces in Syria, were they to be deployed there, should be to control precision weapons  as well as to provide armored and artillery equipment/training to Syrian forces to strengthen the Assad Government's position.  What is needed above all is Electronic Surveillance and intelligence gathering to locate ISIL positions in the desert followed by air strikes against them.

The application of serious force is needed to bring about the inevitable defeat of the Islamists.  The United States and its NATO and Middle Eastern allies are well aware of this hence they “fight” against the Assad Government primarily through ISIL and their self-described “moderate Syrian opposition” proxies.

These groups are based in cities such as Aleppo and are supported through the Turkish and Jordanian borders.  To deal with them will certainly

be difficult but this is not Afghanistan and the battle for Aleppo could be turned into a kind of capture of Grozny in 2000 scenario.  In any case we (Russia) must not conduct these ground battles.  We must use the army of Bashar al-Assad that has withstood 4 years of war.  They know how to act in their own cities.

Syrians are not fighting for Assad but for their lives

There is a possibility that the US and its allies may want to first secretly arm ISIL and then lay the blame on them for attacks against Russia and Russian Forces in Syria but in such a scenario it is unlikely that modern and air defence weapons can be supplied because their origins would be too obvious. (Whether from the US, EU or other former Warsaw Pact countries).

Having to fight against us with the hands of Syria Islamist thugs the United States will cover the remains of their reputation with shame that would be impossible to whitewash. Finally, a very important moral factor.  In the Syrian civil war Russia will be on the side of the alliance of Christians, Alawites and Shiites against ISIL which is a deadly threat for them all.  Assad's supporters are fighting not so much for him as for their own lives.  Frankly, they look at Putin as a savior.  The Syrians have already proven themselves capable of fighting against near nsurmountable odds and are therefore a very reliable ally.

Alawites were ready to give a pledge of allegiance to Catherine the Great

Russia's presence in Syria will have a direct impact on the conflict in Ukraine. We must understand that our main enemy there is Washington rather than their puppets in Kiev.  The US may soften its stance on Ukraine were it placed under pressure in weaker parts of its Empire.  Our main task is to protect our interests in Ukraine and the people in Novorossyia.  In this respect Syria could become a significant trump card.

We don't consider Syria to be a strange Muslim country in the depths of Asia. It always retained a significant Orthodox Christian population from ancient Byzantine times and links between Russia and Syria have existed for centuries.  Attempts to swear allegiance to Catherine II by Alawites (to which the Assad family belongs) of Latakia and Tartus were undertaken in 1770.  

That a Russian Syria did not appear alongside a Russian Crimea was, in a sense, a historical accident.


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