The New Great Game in Eurasia advanced in leaps and bounds last week after Russia fired 26 cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea against 11 ISIS/ISIL/Daesh targets across Syria, destroying all of them. These naval strikes were the first known operational use of state-of-the-art SSN-30A Kalibr cruise missiles.
All it took for the Pentagon was a backward look over the shoulder at the flight path of those Kalibr missiles – capable of striking targets 1,500 km away. Talk about a crisp, clear, succinct message from Moscow to the Pentagon and NATO. Wanna mess with us, boy? With your big, bulging aircraft carriers, maybe?
Moreover, on top of the creation of what is a de facto no-fly zone over Syria and southern Turkey, the Russian Navy cruiser Moskva, carrying 64 S-300 ship-to-air missiles is now docked in Latakia.
The proverbial anonymous US sources could not but go on overdrive, spinning the Russians had four wayward missiles that landed in Iran. The Russian High Command ridiculed them; all missiles landed within eight feet of their targets.
The Pentagon didn’t even know the Kalibr could be fired from small ships — as Tomahawks require much larger ships.
The best the Pentagon could muster, apart from widespread apoplexy, was NORAD commander Adm. William Gortney telling the Atlantic Council Russian long-range aviation and long-range cruise missiles present a new “threat” for US strategic homeland defense.
The Russian cruise missile threat is a “particular challenge for NORAD and for Northern Command.” Oh, really?
Talk about a New Great Game-wide understatement. A case can be made that Russia’s military development over the past few years has put Moscow generations ahead of the US. In case of a Hot World War 3.0 – and nobody, apart from the usual Dr. Strangeloves, could possibly want that — missiles and submarines will be the key weapons, not US-style monster aircraft carriers.
The Pentagon is apoplectic because this display of Russian technology revealed the end of the American monopoly over long-range cruise missiles. Pentagon analysts were still working under the assumption their range was around 300 kilometers.
Moreover, NATO has been warned; Russia can crush them, in a flash — as I witnessed in conversations in Germany last week. Fiery rhetoric of the “you’re violating my air space!” variety also won’t cut it.
Once again, assuming the Dr. Strangelove scenario, the only possible US response if the going gets tough would be to launch nuclear ICBMs; but then Russia’s air space will be sealed by S-500 anti-missile missiles, carrying ten inceptor missiles each and unable to miss on any American ICBM.
Dumb and moderately dumber
So, after the initial shock, the Pentagon reverted to … inanity, complementing the jolly mood of these dumb and dumber headlines, here and here.
Pentagon supremo Ash Carter swore Washington would not cooperate with Moscow in Syria because the Kremlin’s strategy is “tragically flawed.” We should read “flawed” as Russia in a few days killing more assorted Salafi-jihadi goons than the US-led Coalition of the Dodgy Opportunists (CDO) in over a year. Does anybody remember the CDO is officially called Operation Inherent Resolve?
And then there’s an additional problem with the Pentagon’s “I don’t want to play in the same garden with you” so-called “strategy”; the Russian Defense Ministry explained it was actually the Pentagon that requested to coordinate actions in Syria in the first place.
To add irrelevancy to inanity, the Pentagon announced it was shelving its latest spectacular fail; the $500 million program to “train and equip” Syrian “moderate” rebels, which yielded a whopping “four or five” diehards ready to fight ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
So there will be no more “training”; rather the molding of “enablers” — code for local intel — with a mission to identify fake “Caliphate” targets for CDO strikes. They will be “advised” on how to interact with the Pentagon “at a distance.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
“Equipping,” for its part, will be vastly downgraded; what’s left will be a bunch of assault rifles to be handed out to some 5,000 “moderate” rebels, which will be, of course, instantly seized by Jabhat al-Nusra, a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria, or “Caliphate” goons.
Ash Carter was very pleased with his new masterfully conceived strategy, which is bound to help “increase the combat power” of those elusive “moderate” rebels. And he swears Washington “remains committed” to training those “moderate” rebels, now on “different ways to achieve basically the same kind of strategic objective” mode.
It fell to the astonishingly mediocre Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, to expand on the new focus of the masterfully conceived “strategy”; “developing relationships with leaders and units [among Syrian armed groups], and being able to get them supplies and equipment.” Why not develop these “relationships” via a Facebook page? It’s cheap and way more effective.
Deconflict me, babe
Even though “deconflicting” between Washington and Moscow remains as conflicted as ever, there’s at least one issue where they may converge; working with the Kurds in northeast Syria, as admitted by members of the PYD (Democratic Union Party). PYD co-chair Salih Muslim is adamant that “we will fight alongside whoever fights Daesh.”
The PYD analysis though remains anathema to the Pentagon and the White House. And the PYD does know one or two things about fighting jihadis/”moderate” rebels on the ground. PYD considers ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Jabhat al-Nusra or Ahrar a-Sham “no different” from one another. Translation: “moderate” rebels are non-existent. PYD also accepts Bashar al-Assad staying in power for a while, but only during a “transitional” period.
The PYD has perfectly read the meaning of Russia’s Syria offensive. They fiercely oppose a Turkish-controlled no-fly zone and now rest assured there will never be one. They are also perfectly aware of a Turkmen “Sultan” brigade, trained by Ankara – Turkish-style “moderate” rebels — which defected, en masse, to ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
Meanwhile, in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin met — again — with Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as in the warrior prince who’s smashing civilians in Yemen. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Energy Minister Alexander Novak were also there.
Diplomatically, this was all about Moscow and Riyadh agreeing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh cannot be allowed to take over Syria. The devil is in the details. Much spin centered on a “political solution.” Putin once again could not be sharper; the current offensive is meant to “stabilize the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise.” The House of Saud got the message; it’s the Russian way or the highway.
They still flirt with the highway though — as in the proverbial unnamed “Saudi officials” confirming those working under Putin-friendly Prince Salman delivered 500 TOW antitank missiles to the “moderate” rebels of the former Free Syrian Army (FSA). Bets can be made these TOWs will be captured by assorted Salafi-jihadis in no time.
All this frenzied action was taking place in parallel to the freshly operational Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah intel coordination center in Baghdad showing it means business. This is how you run on the ground intel. A strike may have missed “Caliph” Ibrahim but sent to paradise a few other “Caliphate” notables. The bottom line: the Pentagon was not invited and knew about the Iraqi strike by watching CNN. After all, the record shows the Pentagon does not exactly excel in on the ground Iraq intel.
Baghdad Shi’ite sources confirmed to me once again that the talk of the town is the Pentagon and the Obama administration not only being not interested in really fighting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh but at best dragging their feet in a sort of “reluctant support” mode. And this because the Obama administration’s “strategy” – ask pitiful Ben Rhodes – remains hooked on “Assad must go,” whatever semantic variations about it.
And what about Turkey? Here’s the short answer. Sultan Erdogan simply can’t handle the Kurds — either in Syria or in Turkey. He can’t handle Syria. Not to mention he can’t handle Moscow. There’s a running joke from Syria to Iraq and Iran that one does not need to attack Turkey; you just let it fall apart by itself. Sultan Erdogan is making sure that happens.
The Sultan’s myriad impasses explain why Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – he of the former “zero problems with our neighbors” doctrine — is now saying Ankara is ready to talk to Moscow and Tehran about Syria, as long as that does not mean “legitimizing” Assad. Davutoglu is also developing the warped logic that Russian airstrikes increase the flow of Syrian refugees into Turkey. So expect Ankara to release another wave of refugees kept on “holding camps” all the way to Fortress Europe. And then blame it on Putin. And Putin’s missiles.
This piece first appeared at Asia Times.