Putin’s low-key Syrian operation – a call to Trump, DEBKAfile, November 16, 2016
The Russian air force and navy launched a “large-scale” operation against “terrorists” in the Syrian provinces of Idlim and Homs Tuesday, Nov. 15. Bombers took off from the Hmeymim air base and the Admiral Kuznetsovaircraft carrier whle cruise missiles were fired from the Admiral Grigorovichfrigate. According to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who addressed a meeting of Russian generals with President Vladimir Putin, the targets were positions of the Islamic State and Al Nusra.
He did not say how long the operation would go on.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources say that the proportions of the Russian operation as seen from the ground better fit the description of low key than “large scale.”
No more than 2 Sukhoi Su-33 fighters lifted off the carrier’s decks and only a few Kaliber cruise missiles were fired from the frigate. They were not aimed at Islamist terrorist positions, but at arms factories and ammunition stores. Towards evening, a third Russian air strike hit a target in the hills overlooking the coastal province of Latakia.
The timing of the Russian operation was significant. It came five days after President Barack Obama finally ordered the Pentagon to seek out and target Nusra Front leaders, after long holding out against Moscow’s demand in this regard, and 12 hours after US president elect Donald Trump and Putin held their first telephone conversation after the election.
Since the attack was too limited to change the military situation on the Syrian war’s front lines, what was its purpose? And why was its launch given world-wide exposure accompanied by a photo-op of the Russian president meeting his generals for heightened drama?
It appears that Putin sought by this maneuver to convey the impression that Trump had agreed to the operation during their initial conversation on Monday. It is far more likely, however, that the Russian leader presented the offensive to Trump in general terms and did not hear an explicit negative response. He therefore decided to go ahead with the attack, marking out Islamist terrorists – which the president elect had declared in his campaign as America’s enemy – on the assumption that he would not disagree with a Russian strike against a consensual target. By this maneuver, Putin hoped to draw the next US president into backing Russia’s strategy in the Syrian war.
It is hard to believe that Donald Trump will be so easily drawn.