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Syrian No Fly Zone + Russian Jet = ?

By Tim Marshall.

Talk of a No Fly Zone in northern Syria, and of French and British airstrikes against ISIS in the north, is becoming louder. At the same time there are whispers of a Russian RSSmilitary build-up in Syria. The two things are not compatible.

First the No Fly Zone (NFZ). The French appear to have already made their decision. Reconnaissance flights by war planes have taken place, Paris is clear that air strikes will follow.

In the UK the debate is heating up. First the opposition Labour Party has to elect a new leader, (results are due this weekend), then the idea of extending the RAF’s bombing role from Iraq into Syria may be put to a vote in Parliament.

Concurrent with this the debate on a NFZ appears to be heading towards the possibility of imposing one without a UN Security Council Resolution if deemed necessary. The air strikes would be against ISIS. The NFZ would be aimed at preventing the Syrian Air force from flying and dropping its barrel bombs – a tactic which kills far more people than does ISIS. So far, so uncharted and dangerous territory. The Laws of Unintended Consequences will apply, although that is not an argument for or against a NFZ.

Now put into the mix the Russians.

rS7It seems probable that Russia has recently reinforced its sailors, military advisers, and guards, at its naval base at Tartus.

Unconfirmed reports, taken seriously by the Americans, suggest that prefabricated housing units capable of housing up to a thousand military personnel have arrived along with a portable air traffic control station. One US official told the New York Times that the Russian deployment might grow to 3,000 personnel. On the record the State Department says “we’re also watching their actions very carefully. If these reports are borne out, it would represent a very serious shift in the trajectory of the Syria conflict..”
This does not mean, as some unsubstantiated speculation has it, that Russia is about to move combat troops into Syria, nor does it mean that the Kremlin intends to bring in fighter jets and start bombing Assad’s enemies.

However, it might, and that ‘might’ needs to be factored into the decisions the other great powers make over the next few weeks.

Various photographs are doing the rounds on social media purporting to be of Russian troops inside Syria. None are compelling proof that anyone is operating outside of the  Tartus base, and some are questionable – for example would the Russians be wearing these uniforms in the searing heat of Syrian summer?

rS3Russian combat troops in the field alongside the Syrian army seems unlikely even if a recent video does show that the Syrians now have at least one BTR-82A armoured car – which is one of Russia’s most advanced army vehicles. We knew they had been delivered, we knew that Russia arms Assad.

So, if the reports of extra personal, and housing, are correct, they are more likely for one, or two, of two things.

They might be extra security for the Tartus base (fighting has neared the coastal plain this summer). And or, Russian planes, and even pilots, may be coming to the assistance of the Syrian forces. If so, they would require maintaining and guarding.

This would seriously complicate matters. The US -led coalition is already conducting missions in Syria and the French and possibly British are about to join in. They do not aXX want to operate in a crowded airspace. Also, if the Russians went after opposition forces which were not ISIS, they might be bombing some of the ‘moderate’ fighters  armed and trained by the Americans.

This all becomes even more serious if a NFZ has been declared and of course if the Russians intend to use their planes in Syria. Would the Russians abide by a NFZ they had not signed up to? Would Putin be able to resist testing the resolve of the coalition? He may not want to start WW3, but he’s often seen as a gambler.

unnamedYesterday a handful of politicians at the UK  Parliament hosted the Planet Syria organization to try and learn more about the situation ahead of the possible vote on extending Britain’s military role and the possibility of a NFZ. The meeting was chaired by Gisela Stuart MP who put into context the difficulty of a UN authorized NFZ saying ‘No Fly Zone? Open brackets, how to deal with a Russian veto, close brackets”.

Syrian economist and activist Assaad al-Achi countered that existing UN Resolutions already gave authorization to take action as they have been flouted by the regime. But the British, and others, have been down that long path before. If the UK is to bomb in Syria, and help police a NFZ, the way ahead seems to be through Parliament. If and when the vote comes – Russia’s intentions need to be clarified and factored in.



11 Comments on "Syrian No Fly Zone + Russian Jet = ?"

  1. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 9th September 2015 at 8:05 am | Reply

    Yes. Right. For 4 years Russia has prevented the UN Security Council from passing a resolution to establish NFZ north and south of Syria. Exploiting Obama’s self-induced impotence, Russia has succeeded in frustrating the international community. It is time that the Western Powers act without Russia’s and China’s approval.

  2. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon | 9th September 2015 at 9:26 am | Reply

    Good piece – NFZ is the first step to developing Safe Zones in NW & S Syria to stop the haemorrhaging of civilians out of Syria and to get aid in. Prevarication will make the situation worse than better. I hope UK Govt will have the mettle to vote on extending military action and support in Syrian in order to enable Safe Zones otherwise the 20000 refugee places in UK could be too few by a factor of 10 or more. Hamish DBG

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 9th September 2015 at 12:35 pm | Reply

      Hamish, the UK’s record in the Mid-East since Allenby defeated the Turks in WW1 has been of abject failure militarily & politically. The UK along with France created the 4 illegal Arab states of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon & Jordan which are the root cause of the war & instability in the Mid-East ever since. Their creation of these illegal Arab states in defiance of the 1920 San Remo treaty which only authorised the creation of a Jewish state in the Levant is one of the unrecognised greatest war crimes ever & under no circumstances should the UK ever again interfere in the Mid-East except to apologise to Israel & the Jewish people for their attempt to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state from 1920 till 1948. The UK is no longer a military power, in fact it is not even an independent sovereign nation ever since Gordon Brown signed the Lisbon treaty & should confine itself to rebuilding its economy, devastated during the 13 year despotic rule of Blair & Brown. The UK is the last country that we here in Israel need to meddle in our affairs, you are a defeated & economically ruined nation that has lost every war it fought in the Mid-East since 1945 from Suez in 1956, Aden in 1967, the Afghan & Iraq wars of recent times. Go away we do not want your military presence in the Mid-East, millions have died or been made refugees as the result of UK aggression here in the Mid-East. We in Israel will deal with Syria, Russia & Iran, keep your troops at home where you will need them in the coming decade to keep order in your inner cities.

      • Wow. Not much of a bias post there.

        • Kai I assume yr post is sarcastic. If not sorry. If so, in who or what’s favour is it biased?

        • mahatmacoatmabag | 10th September 2015 at 1:20 pm | Reply

          Dear kai121, I am this websites resident Zionist troublemaker, no good website should be without one. It is a measure of Tim Marshalls fairness, maturity, patience, sense of fair play & integrity as a media commentator & analyst that he even allows me to post, since I am banned from using the ID of Mahatmacoatmabag ( but not other ID’s) on the website of his former employer Sky News & on the Daily Telegraph for the crime of failing to worship Yasser Arafat & the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the other threats to world peace & economic stability like Russia, China, North Korea and the two biggest threats of them all – the EU & President Obama. In short Tim is a tolerant humouros bloke despite him supporting Leeds United, so yes kai I support Israel & democracy, sorry if that upsets you.

          • Mr Mahat. If I might test your patience…. Could you keep the posts slightly shorter please? Also, you may have noticed that not all yr responses are published. This is because on occasion you write things which might, or might not, get me sued. I can’t afford to be sued. Thank you.

          • mahatmacoatmabag | 10th September 2015 at 2:23 pm |

            Tim I am sorry if I cross the line at times but I am as I declared openly a Zionist Troublemaker, which as you know are as a rule a class of people slightly less dangerous than Leeds United fans playing at Millwall .

  3. mahatmacoatmabag | 9th September 2015 at 10:03 pm | Reply

    The Jerusalem Post website has this evening posted an article by Reuters, with similar details of the growing Russian military build up in Syria to those detailed by Tim in his excellent piece on the subject.

    I am hoping that any Russian intervention in Syria will meet with the same fate as their Afghanistan campaign, a defeat which hastened the fall of the USSR.

    Russian intervention will IMO unite the diverse Sunni groups from ISIS, the Nasra front, AQ & the Free Syrian Army etcetera just like it created the Mujahideen in Afghanistan which with CIA help defeated the might of the USSR’s conscript army & lead to the capture & execution of the hated Russian puppet dictator Mohammad Najibullah, hopefully Assad will suffer a similar fate followed, God willing, by an uprising in Iran that will topple the mad Mullahs too.

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