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A Russian-American Tango in Syrian skies

Now, the world will watch a Russian-American Tango in Syrian skies, and this time it’s Putin who is leading the dance, not Obama

Mohamed Chebarro

Published: Updated:

It is too early to fairly assess Moscow's endeavors in Syria after it deployed dozens of fighter jets to begin an air campaign in Syria. Though the targets hit are not believed to be solely ISIS positions, it will be sometime before a clear assessment emerges from the field. My guess is that it will not be long before the world stands witness to Russian brutality which surpasses that of the Syrian regime and its Iranian allies that helped over the past four years keep Bashar al-Assad in power.

But the real story does not lie here.

At the crux of the matter is the fact that after a year of the U.S.-led air campaign fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the organization trying to build a Caliphate in the Middle East and elsewhere is still intact despite its many bruises.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is suspicious of Russia’s intervention in Syria and has challenged the Kremlin, perhaps prematurely, to put match its actions to its words, roll up its sleeves, and join the world’s fight against ISIS.

The Russians were not caught bluffing; they may be fighting ISIS - but their actions have stoked further the fire in Syria, where civilians of all religions and sects are paying the price. It is not a surprise to see them fleeing their homeland in all directions across the world.

The Russians have gone into Syria with their eyes also on other stalemates with the U.S. and Europe, mainly over Ukraine. I believe Moscow’s attacks are aimed mainly at propping up Assad's wounded regime, not fighting ISIS or terrorism as they claim.

Now, the world will watch a Russian-American Tango in Syrian skies, and this time it’s Putin who is leading the dance, not Obama

Mohamed Chebarro

Russia's role in Syria has been, from the onset of the crisis, to side with Assad against his people and therefore it cannot be a neutral broker for a potential peace plan that Moscow claims it is trying to execute.

Putin and his outspoken foreign minister Sergei Lavrov never disguise the fact they are supporting, and arming, Assad, and they consider all opposition forces to be terrorists attacking the state of Syria.

A location in Baghdad has been established as a Russian intelligence, liaison and coordination center, established with support from Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian intelligence. It seems this group is intent on further dividing the world’s resolve (if we are to be naive and trust that there is one) between two camps; one led by Russia and the other by the U.S.

If anything, the above complicates an already complicated scene.

Defining terrorism

Russian intervention in Syria comes after almost five years of failure by the U.N. to define the conflict, let alone or find an end to it. The role of Moscow was central in obstructing several Security Council resolutions aimed at putting an end to the violence

By and large, President Barack Obama decided to ignore the conflict and decided to work on a bigger cause; hoping to tame Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But the latest U.N. fringe meeting between the Russian and American presidents showed once again how diametrically opposed the views of both countries and their allies are regarding the Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe.

All the above was narrowed down once again to a vague statement agreeing to keep working together to fight terrorism – but we all know both parties have different perspectives on terror; is it ISIS or the Syrian opposition fighters rebelling against Assad?

Caught by surprise

Days after that meeting, it became clear the Obama Administration was caught by surprise and sent mixed messages in its reaction to the Russian attacks on targets in three Syrian provinces, reportedly using banned cluster bombs - some of which allegedly targeted moderate Syrian rebels trained by the CIA, we were told.

Clearly Putin's Russia has outmaneuvered the U.S.

If anything, the burning questions that remain are how best to fight ISIS, how to contain the Syrian war, how to defeat Isis in Iraq, how to curb Iranian meddling in Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

If anything, Moscow's latest call for the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition to leave the airspace in its area of operation presents a new political and operational challenges.

On a political level, it is another blow to Obama and the West and their non-policy on Syria. So now the Russians are showing more boldness in filling the void.

On an operational level, I sat down to scribble over a map of Syria to see where fighter jets from opposing coalitions could strike. So far, the Russians are attacking targets north of the country, mainly in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo. ISIS forces are mainly in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor further east and Palmyra.

It will be an operational nightmare to divide the airspace and provide corridors for each coalition’s air force.

That said, Assad's airforce continued its strikes on Syrian cities for the past 12 months in parallel to strikes and air sorties carried out by U.S. in Syria without any known major air space incidents.

So maybe the Russians, the Americans and their allies will opt out for odd and even days for each coalition to operate in. The "odd and even days" were invented by municipalities around the world to allow cars with Odd or Even plate registration into congested city centers to limit pollution and or traffic jams.

Now, the world will watch a Russian-American Tango in Syrian skies, and this time it’s Putin who is leading the dance, not Obama.

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Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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