Wednesday, September 16, 2015

General: 'We Don’t Truly Understand' Russia's Plans in Syria

     Weekend remarks concerning Russia's current activities in Syria by Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander, are far from reassuring. Speaking to reporters after NATO's Military Committee Conference in Istanbul on Saturday, Breedlove acknowledged, "We don’t truly understand yet what it is that Russia is going to do in Syria." (via EuroNews) He went on to say:
We have heard everything from humanitarian operations to combat operations, so it remains to be seen what this will be in the end," Breedlove said. "What we are most concerned about is any operations that would continue to support the Assad regime and its terrible actions against its own people.
     Breedlove's comments follow reports that Russia has plans to establish an air base in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, which is still under the control of the Assad regime. Russia's path to Syria has also been the cause of some concern and contention involving airspace permission from area countries for Russian aircraft on their way to Syria.
     Gen. Breedlove connected the concerns regarding Syria with Russia's incursions into and occupation of parts of Ukraine. "The issue of a revanchist Russia, which is now changing borders in Europe by force, has sort of brought everybody's attention," he said. However, Breedlove expressed confidence that Russian president Vladimir Putin recognized that violating a NATO border was far different from "crossing those international borders":
Clearly, Mr. Putin has made decisions and they have used force to invade and now occupy Ukraine's Crimea and they have used force to invade and now occupy portions of the Donbas, but I think that crossing those international borders is clearly different than crossing a NATO border.
     Earlier in September, Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration deserves credit for spurring NATO and European nations to take action against Russia in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine:
Were we not leading that effort, it would have been another example in this generation of a transgression that is impermissible without the international community responding, leading to more transgressions.  And if this aggression continues, the costs for Russia will continue to climb.
     So far the actions taken against Russia amount largely to economic sanctions and the beefing up of NATO deployments in central and eastern Europe. It is unclear what additional actions might be taken by the United States and its allies should Russian activities in Syria cross the line, and indeed it is unclear what exactly that line might be.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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