NATO General: Defeating ISIS Not Main Goal of Russia in Syria

Weapons deployed by Russia indicate that it's prime goal in Syria is to prop up the regime of Bashar Assad, says Gen. Philip Breedlove.

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A view of Russian fighter jets and helicopters at a military base in the government-controlled coastal Syrian city of Latakia. Credit: AFP

The sophisticated air-defense system that Russia is installing in Syria indicates that its presence in the war-torn county has little to do with fighting Islamic State and a lot to do with propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander said on Monday.

“These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about [Islamic State], they’re about something else,” Gen. Philip Breedlove told an audience at the German Marshall Fund on Monday, according to a report in the Washington Post.

“High on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s list in Syria is preserving the regime against those that are putting pressure on the regime and against those that they see who might be supporting those putting pressure on the regime,” he said.

Breedlove added that the Russian equipment in Syria included aircraft designed for an air-to-air role – a clear indication, he said, that Russia was putting in place an intricate layer of defensive systems deployed to hinder U.S. and coalition operations in the region.

The general described the Russian buildup as potentially "another A2/AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean” – referring to a combination of systems, such as surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles, deployed to prevent forces from entering or traversing a certain area from land, air or sea.

A2/AD stands for anti-access/area denial, and refers to the means used to prevent the enemy from infiltrating certain territory.

Such a buildup in Syria, he said, would be Russia’s third denial zone around Europe. The first and oldest is in the Baltics, where the Russian naval base in Kaliningrad has robust anti-air capabilities. The second zone – in Russian-occupied Crimea – covers the Black Sea.

As of last week, Russia had more than two dozen aircraft at a newly renovated airfield in Latakia province, including ground-attack aircraft and helicopter gunships. In addition to the aircraft, there are at least 500 troops and number of tanks and armored personnel carriers.

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