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Putin Takes The Shia Side Of The Road

By Tim Marshall.

Russia’s military escalation in Syria puts it at odds with every almost every state actor in the wider Middle East bar Iran. President Putin has chosen sides in the region’s Sunni/Shia divide.

Shia Iran, and Shia Hezbollah have been joined militarily by Russia to shore up the Syrian Alawite (Shia sect) led government. The Shia led government is prepared to allow Russian cruise missiles to fly over its territory. Putin must have known he would anger all the Sunni led governments before entering the fray so forcefully but decided the risk was worthwhile.

Over the weekend Putin invited the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE Supreme Military commander Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed BBBal-Nahayyan to the Sochi Grand Prix.

If they could make themselves heard above the roar of the Formula 1 engines, they will have realised how little they had to agree on. The meeting ended with some vanilla flavoured statements about cooperation in Syria, but there is little to co-operate about – they are on different sides.

Russia will continue its air strikes in support of a ground offensive by regime loyalists, Hezbollah, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Gulf States will continue to arm and fund a variety of anti-government groups some of whom are now coming together in a show of unity hitherto lacking.

According to the reliable Stratfor website Putin wanted to ensure there were limits to the hardware the Gulf States will provide to their proxy armies. In particular he wanted to warn of severe consequences if they supply portable surface to air rockets capable of bringing down Russian jets. This warning will probably be heeded as the Americans take a similarly hostile view of the idea of various groups of varying shades of radical having surface to air missiles.

The tide began to turn against Assad earlier this year when large numbers of anti-tank weapons (TOW missiles) began to reach the rebels. With the regime beginning to crumble Putin stepped in. But while he can accept TOW missiles taking out regime tanks, he cannot accept Russian jets, containing Russian pilots suffering the same fate.

What the Russian leadership has done is another demonstration of the ‘Putin Doctrine’ – showing the world that Moscow stands by its ‘friends’ be they in South Ossetia, eastern Ukraine, or the Middle East.

Russia has ensured that Assad will probably now not be defeated militarily. Therefore if there is to be a diplomatic solution (which seems some way off) Russia will have bombed its way to place around the table. What Putin will want in return for delivering Assad to negotiations will be a relaxing of the sanctions on Moscow related to Ukraine. He’s playing diplomatic and military chess on a very wide board. He’s also playing with fire as the Gulf States are not about to back down in the foreseeable future.


4 Comments on "Putin Takes The Shia Side Of The Road"

  1. Another Putin strategic goal is to get the price of a barrel of oil back to at least $60. By increasing tension in the Gulf & having Iran threaten the supply of oil from the Gulf with its missile expansion programme it serves both Russia & Irans economic & military plans. Russia having little in the way of industrial output except weapons & petrochemicals can not at present fight a two theatre war therefore the Ukrainian theatre of operations is on virtual hold whilst the strategically more important Syria & by extension Iraq theatre of operations is being ramped up where a military & political victory on the ground is a possibility and one that the US & NATO are less likely to want to fight with Russia over as opposed to further Russian expansion westwards in Europe. In short the Russian bear has also proved to be a wily fox & a chess grand master.

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 14th October 2015 at 12:56 pm | Reply

    Spot-on Tim.

  3. I have read that Cuba has sent troops to fight for Assad & Russia in Syria. That makes sense as Cuban troops served as Russia’s proxy army in the Angolan war & if they get sent home in body bags the Castro brothers will not allow anti-war demos in Havana and of course Russian mothers wont have to weep like they did during Russia’s war in Afghanistan

  4. Putin has been tracking US actions in the region so he knows whats happening here, the thing most of the world don’t know.US is going to prevent coming of promised savior.

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