Big Red Car here on a glorious Friday — sunny, clear, crisp but going to warm up this afternoon just the way we like it in the ATX.
So, Vlad the Pute is turning the Russian military loose in Syria to strut its stuff. Keep your eye on this development as it will be a huge change in the future of the Middle East. No conjecture here — this will be huge. Count on it.
The Russian military has historically been held in very low esteem by professional observers. It was once a brute force that overwhelmed its enemies (most famously in World War II) with sheer numbers and material rather than expertise, strategy, and tactics. It was always thought of as being a little technologically backward particularly when compared with the Americans and NATO.
Russian Leadership and the Military
The vaunted Russian military machine was a polyglot of officers, non-commissioned officers, and men who were from different regions of the country and who spoke different languages for a specific reason — to preclude the military rising up and overthrowing the government. It was a conscript army for a weird union.
The Russian leadership is always held by some combination of the Army, the Communist Party, and the KGB. It is a three legged stool.
[For clarification, the “KGB” is now the FSB but it is still the NVKD >> KGB >> FSB employing more than 200,000 while operating out of Lubyanka Prison while running the IKSI (Institute of Cryptography and Protection of Information) which is a modern army of hackers and nerds. When folks say the Russians were up to no good on the Internet, this is who they are talking about. It’s still the KGB and Vladimir Putin is still a KGB hack.]
Putin stays atop the Russian throne by virtue of his support from the FSB and the military.
He has garnered that support, in great measure, by attempting to enlarge and modernize the military which feeds the egos of the generals at the top. The guys with the great big hats in all those pictures.
Russian Military Tech
The Russians unveiled some new weaponry in Syria already. Not that we did not know they were working on it but that it was not yet battle tested. Putin is using Syria as a means of conducting field training exercises using his new goodies. I will mention a few.
1. The Russians are using the Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter (close air support and air-to-air capabilities) which has shown to be very effective. The pilots are very good.
2. The Russians have used a ship-based cruise missile, the Kalibr. They have launched this missile from a 900 mile standoff position in the Caspian Sea (no, not the Black Sea as earlier reported), overflew sovereign nations enroute to striking targets in Syria. Sure, four of them failed to make the trip but still, this is a big development as it throws a big blanket of vulnerability from any bit of ocean a Russian ship can float upon.
As an aside, this makes the aging Russian fleet deadly as they can now be “re-franged” with this extraordinary weapon.
The Russians have publicly indicated that this new technology can be launched from Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers indicating payloads of up to 90 such cruise missiles. Imagine a flight of Tu-160s taking off, approaching their target to within a thousand miles, and, then, unleashing 45 tons of cruise missiles each while never coming closer than a thousand miles. These cruise missiles have GPS guidance which can fly them into an open window.
To digress for just a second — the Russians say these missiles have a range of up to 1,800 miles and likely more when launched from the air. They can carry a nuclear warhead or a conventional warhead.
3. The Russians have deployed drones in support of their operations though there is no evidence — yet — that they have armed these drones. There is no reason to expect they will not.
4. The Russians have deployed a new and improved Hind helicopter. The Hind is a very unique combination of an advanced gun platform (think an A-10 in a helicopter version) but also a Huey transport like capability which can combine the delivery of a squad of soldiers with its own close air support. This is a deadly combination.
5. The Russians have put a guided-missile cruiser off the coast of Syria which provides them with control of he skies over Syria thereby ensuring there will be no no-fly zone initiated by the Americans. This ship, the Moskva, is the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet which is not chopped liver.
If you believe that the deployment and testing of this equipment is similar to Hitler’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War, be my guest.
Let’s be clear about one thing — the Russians are in Syria to save the Bashar al-Assad regime and nothing else. You think they’re there to hammer ISIS? No, they’re in Syria to kill everyone in opposition to the regime.
Our government may pretend the Russians have simply overstepped some mutual strategy but that is not correct. Putin asked the Americans to provide the identity and location of all anti-Assad rebels that the Americans were supporting with a supposed nod toward not hitting those locations. Really? We are that stupid? Of course, our government didn’t provide this information — death sentence — but the Russians have been hitting them nonetheless.
The charade of American recruitment, outfitting, training, and deployment of rebels has been a costly failure.
In the last two weeks, the Russians have ramped up their operational vigor to such a level that they are conducting more air strikes in a SINGLE DAY than the American led forces conduct against ISIS in a month.
The Russians are routinely conducting night air attacks — a fairly sophisticated command and control challenge and one we did not think the Russians had yet mastered — followed up by immediate drone bomb damage assessment which shows a commitment to destroying targets completely. When the BDA does not please the Russians, they send another sortie of aircraft to finish the job.
They are hitting targets that are consistent with a pending conventional attack rather than “targets of opportunity.” This means they are hitting strong points on roads which would be used by conventional forces to attack along a coordinated avenue of advance. This is garden variety soldiering and signals a coming attack to destroy substantial opposition units.
Clearly, the Russians intend to isolate and destroy rebel units and retake territory on a piecemeal basis which allows them to concentrate their forces, attack in depth, and prey upon the disorganized opposition.
This tactic will be successful.
Russian Forces and Assad Forces
In addition to Russian Marines and Spetsnaz which have already been deployed, the Russians are building a fairly competent army of Hezbollah (Iranian backed Lebanese fighters), Iranian soldiers now totaling about a brigade of excellent troops, and the Assad forces. This fresh manpower is much different than the rebels who must rely upon ones and twos of “fighters” rallying to the cause but untrained as coherent units.
These are coherent units and will likely fight well.
I would not overstate the conventional warfare capabilities of the Hezbollah or Iranian fighters as they are not battle tested in such deployment size but with Russian leadership, planning, and close air support they will be a formidable force and clearly a huge mismatch for any group of rebels now currently opposing Assad.
I predict that within a single year, the Russian led initiative will have Assad firmly atop the Syrian presidency and well into the future. The country will be rid of all rebel forces and the alliance amongst Russia, Iran, and Syria will be a going concern with Hezbollah chomping at the bit to take on Israel from southern Lebanon. Success breeds success.
Let’s identify the horribles as quickly possible.
1. This is a huge win for the Russian military — a coming out party of sorts which Putin has been working on since 2008. The Russian military has improved substantially.
Might be a different situation if they were facing the Americans and MPADS (man-portable air-defense systems), shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) capable of knocking their jets and choppers from the sky as the CIA assisted the rebels in Afghanistan to do some decades ago.
The US will not supply their own rebels with these weapons because they fear them appearing in other hands on the departure end of JFK Airport one day in the future.
The rebels will never succeed without effective MPADS or similar anti-armor missile systems like the American TOW missile.
2. The regime of Assad will not be toppled and the American policy advocating regime change — why we backed the rebels in the first place — will be a tits up failure which will undermine our credibility in the region for decades.
3. Russia will have enormous influence in the region with Iran, Iraq, Syria and anyone else who is fighting with ISIS and Al-Qaeda. They will be the new wonder drug.
Of course, the Russians will now have (through Iran) an overland bridge to the Middle East, warm water ports, and all that oil.
It sounds a little Old School hegemony but then Putin is operating a little Old School seizing Georgian provinces, the Crimea, and, soon perhaps, the Ukraine.
It is pretty damn clear as to Putin’s intentions and no amount of Disney prohibitions or Barack Obama/John Kerry tongue lashings are going to forestall him.
4. Iran will crawl into bed with Russia and never leave. They will continue to export terrorism and the Russians will provide them with anti-air weapon systems which will make any strike against them an unlikely possibility.
The Russians will also likely provide nuclear weapons making expertise.
5. The Israelis will have the Russians on their seafront and in Syria. This is the same Russians who in 1973 were contemplating coming to the rescue of the Egyptians trapped in the Sinai with six airborne divisions.
The Russians see Israel as an American dependency to be demoralized, disrespected, diminished, and, ultimately, destroyed. It is more about screwing with America than it is Israel.
6. Syria never made a real peace with Israel after the last war. Other Arab countries did, not Syria. If the Russians can organize the Syrians, Hezbollah, the Iranians and continues to want to test the Americans, the Israelis could find themselves in a very sticky position. Can they count on us to come to their assistance?
The Israelis have the nuclear option which today plays trump but if the Iranians — supported by the Russians — develop a nuclear weapon of their own? It will be game on.
Here is my prediction — unless something changes dramatically, the Russians will extend an iron curtain of influence that will extend from Russia, through Iran, and deeply into the Middle East. This is an enormous undertaking and the Russians are drunk with their success in backing down the world in Georgia, the Crimea, the Ukraine, and, shortly, Syria.
The US currently has ZERO tanks in Europe. What credible force will confront and push back the Russians?