On Monday, AFP reported that the U.S. government has asked Greece to deny its airspace to Russian supply flights. The Greek foreign ministry is said to be “examining” the request.
According to a Greek official, Russia has asked permission for two flights thus far, insists the planes will not carry arms for Assad, and is prepared to find alternate routes if Greece decides not to cooperate.
“The Russian side has never concealed the fact that it is sending military equipment to the Syrian authorities to help them fight terrorism,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
“This is a silly move and if Greece moves to support it then it would also be unfriendly towards Russia,” snorted Russian senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, who went on to suggest Russia could change its plans to pass through Iran or Turkey if necessary.
As for what might be in those planes, or perhaps the next planes departing for Syria after them, a Russian blogger named Ruslan Leviyev has been compiling “footage from Syria apparently showing a Russian-made BTR-82A armoured personnel carrier as well as reports on social networks that Russian paratroopers have been dispatched to Syria.”
Business Insider quotes Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, warning that Russian president Vladimir Putin is “not about to tolerate” the fall of Bashar Assad, whose regime has been losing ground to ISIS and al-Qaeda lately.
Bremmer thought even the much-touted “political settlement” sort of conclusion to the rebellion would be unacceptable to Putin, if the terms were too unfavorable to Damascus. “If the West succeeds in turning the tide of the war while Assad is vulnerable, the political outcomes in Syria are more likely to be dictated by the U.S., which means Putin needs to bolster Assad now,” he explained.
In this analysis, Russia is happy to leave ISIS to be dealt with by European and American forces, as long as the investment Russia and Iran have made in Bashar Assad is protected. Putin can see how a few hundred thousand “refugees” might make Europe more receptive to wrapping up the Syrian war in a way that leaves Assad in power.