Friday 19 January 2018

Russian fighter jets in Syria 'rule out no-fly zone option'

Russian leader Vladimir Putin
Russian leader Vladimir Putin

David Blair

Russia's deployment of jet fighters in Syria has effectively destroyed the West's option of imposing a "no-fly zone" over the country, experts have warned.

The Kremlin's operation in Syria amounts to the biggest deployment of Russian forces outside the former Soviet Union since the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

So far, President Vladimir Putin has dispatched about 500 troops to the city of Latakia and the adjacent port of Tartous on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

He has also deployed 28 warplanes, 15 military helicopters - including MI-24 gunships - and at least two batteries of SA-22 surface-to-air missiles. Four of the warplanes are SU-27 Flanker fighters, which are designed for air-to-air combat.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon suggested the operation was an added obstacle to peace in Syria.

"The Russian action in the last few weeks, putting ships and aircraft into the region, further complicates an immensely complicated situation," he said.

Russia's declared purpose is to help Bashar al-Assad's regime to fight the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). But neither Isil nor any other rebel group in Syria possesses air power. The SU-27 jets and the SA-22 missiles have no military use against Isil.

Instead, their arrival is designed to send a pointed signal to the West, according to Jonathan Eyal, the Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

"What the Russians are putting in now indicates an intent to be there for a long period," he said.

The deployment of the SU-27s was the "key" to gauging Mr Putin's intentions, added Mr Eyal. Their presence makes it impossible for the West to impose a "no-fly zone" over Syria, at least without Russia's consent.

"If you are talking about a no-fly zone over the whole of Syria, that's probably out of the question now," said Mr Eyal.

"The effect of this is to make sure that Russia is locked in to any kind of deal."

The arrival of Russian firepower in support of Assad's regime has already compelled America to deal directly with the Kremlin over Syria. Ashton Carter, the US defence secretary, has spoken to his Russian counterpart about the situation in Syria.

US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, is expected to meet Mr Putin at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

Mr Fallon said that Russia's ambitions had made the world a more dangerous place than it was five years ago.

Irish Independent

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