Atlantic Council Senior Adviser Harlan Ullman writes for United Press International on the political and geostrategic impact of Russia’s military intervention in Syria:
Russia’s military intervention in Syria has opened a Pandora’s box of potential crises and frightening scenarios as well as hinting at the slimmest glimmer of an opportunity.
Backing Bashar al Assad along with Shia Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin has, knowingly or not, declared a de facto war against the Sunnis. Certainly Saudi Arabia thinks so. Many Saudi clerics have issued fatwas targeting Russia for Jihad.
Russia’s Syrian military deployment is relatively modest. Several dozens of fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, a small naval armada in the Mediterranean — led by a three and a half decades old cruiser — and 2000 ground forces supported by anti-air and other defensive systems is not, by any measure, substantial. Nor has the number of Russian air and missile strikes been significant. Yet, the political and geostrategic impact of Putin’s actions far exceeds what Russia will or will not achieve militarily in Syria.
For the moment, Putin is running circles around the White House. Twenty-six Kalibr land attack cruise missiles were initially fired from small naval escorts in the Caspian Sea to strike targets in Syria nine hundred miles away. This display of Russian military prowess captured the attention of many militaries, especially in Europe. That four missiles may have crashed in Iran — as well as the actual effectiveness of the strikes — surely raises questions about that prowess. However, Moscow’s public relations packaging of this intervention has been impressive so far.