TEL AVIV – News reports in the Arab world claim Russia is planning to escalate its military involvement in Syria by sending in ground troops and increasing airstrikes, according to translations provided by the Middle East Research Institute (MEMRI).
Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese media have published reports over the past two weeks claiming that Russia is launching a new stage of its offensive in Syria, with December witnessing unprecedented escalation in which a ground operation will be launched. “December will be hot on the ground in Syria,” Lebanese daily Al Akhbar reported.
In a talk with the Russia’s Ministry of Defense on November 20, President Vladimir Putin said that the current offensive in Syria is “not enough to clear Syria of armed and terrorist groups and defend Russia from a possible terrorist attack,” adding his hope that the next stages of the offensive will lead to better results.
According to MEMRI, Russia’s decision to increase its involvement in Syria is likely motivated by the upcoming UN supervised meeting on January 1, 2016, in which Syrian regime and opposition representatives are set to negotiate. Russia and its allies Syria and Iran are hoping that the next stage of the offensive will earn them “bargaining chips” ahead of the meeting.
A spokesperson in Kremlin denied the charge that Russia will deploy ground troops in Syria. However, Arab media recently reported that the situation on the ground in Syria has already escalated, with Russian infantry forces being dispatched and the expansion of Russia’s aerial campaign.
According to a Russian report by the Russia defense ministry, Russia will also deploy new artillery forces in the region. The defense minister further announced that the Russian navy has begun shelling Syrian targets from both the Mediterranean and the Caspian seas.
A columnist at the Syrian government’s daily, Al-Watan, reported that “the statement by President Putin that the current operations in Syria are insufficient means that there are preparations for major future activity, namely dispatching additional ground troops.”
Another article in the same newspaper titled “Russia War: Phase Two” stated:
“The Russians knew from the beginning that airstrikes alone would not be enough to secure a victory and that there is a need for different management of operations and greater coordination… All this indicates that Russia will increase its involvement. We are facing a new stage that does not cancel out what came before it but is part of an open war with clear waypoints… The war will definitely not end quickly, [but] we are facing months that will not be like the months that came before.”
MEMRI documented that a third article in Al-Akhbar reported:
“December will be hot on the ground in Syria. All signs [indicate] that the coming months will see an unprecedented escalation.” The article further asserted that, following the Russian plane incident in Egypt and the Paris attacks, the international atmosphere will promote Russia’s escalation in Syria “without incurring a torrent of global condemnations.”
The bombing of the Turkmen villages near the Turkish border is considered to be a red line of Turkey. Al Akhbar assessed that since the Turkmen conquest is necessary for gaining full control of the Syrian coast, Russia had decided to ignore Turkey’s red lines and two weeks ago began a massive offensive together with the Syrian army in Jabal Turkman.
“Today we can safely say that the Syria war is headed for a new stage, characterized mainly by the Syrian army and its allies escalating their joint military attack to unprecedented levels,” the newspaper reported. “What has happened in the Latakia area in the past two days [i.e. the Syrian/Russian bombing of the Turkmens near the Turkish border] is nothing but a small preamble.”
An editorial in the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir opined that Russian ground operations were highly likely, given that introducing more Iranian troops would anger the Saudis and would not be feasible with the current trend of establishing a military alliance with the West, particularly with France, to combat ISIS.
The Syrian newspaper also said that Russia’s goal was to restabilize the regime in Syria and block other regional forces, including Turkey in particular, from preying on Syria’s current state of weakness. “[Russia’s] main goal in the war, which could require dispatching ground troops and more jets, is perhaps to shape a regional Arab order in the East under Russian patronage and to exclude Russia’s opponents [from the Middle East].”
Additionally, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai reported that in the past week and a half the “Russian infantry, aided by tanks and jets, [had] participated for the first time” in fighting against opposition forces in northwest Syria.