The Current

Russia ramps up military presence in Syria, critics fear end game

Russia is believed to have more than two dozen warplanes and surveillance drones inside Syria. As experts track the inflow of weaponry, strategists, diplomats, western political leaders and Syrian citizens are all trying to determine what Vladimir Putin's end game is.
Soldiers, fighter jets, attack helicopters, air defense systems. What is Russia's end game in Syria? (REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva )
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"My message. Just stop the war in Syria. Just that." 

A simple, direct plea from a 13-year-old Syrian boy speaking to Al Jazeera earlier this month, cuts through all the clatter. And it's a reminder of just what's at the root of the refugee crisis rocking Europe and the world. 

But the four-and-a-half-year long conflict in Syria seems to defy any easy solutions. It involves at least four foreign powers, and an unknowable number of local fighting groups. 

And this week, it's become even more complicated.  Russian soldiers -- about 300 marines -- have entered the fray... together with two dozen Russian war planes, a dozen helicopters and advanced air defence systems.

Satellite image of Russian planes at al-Assad International Airport in Syria, Sept 19, 2015. (Courtesy of The Institute For The Study of War)

Yesterday, Russian drone aircraft began flying surveillance missions inside Syria, according to the US military. 

Russia has never actually made a secret of it's military technical co-operation with Syria.  The arms transfer to the Syrian army are designed for countering the terrorist threat which has reached unprecedented proportions in Syria, and of course in Iraq.- Kirill Kalinin, Press Secretary with the Russian Embassy in Ottawa

As with everything in Syria right now, Russia's interests there are layered and complex. In some cases, they align with the west ... but not always. 

The messaging Russia is sending out is that the targeting is going to be against ISIS. That being said, Russia has used loose labeling of what constitutes terrorist elements.- Christopher Kozak , research analyst with the Institute for the Study of War

Some watching Russia's military build-up in Syria suspect it's a way for Russia to bolster its negotiating power ahead of next week's UN Security Council Meeting. But Rafif Jouejati sees something more dangerous at play. 

Rafif Jouejati is Co-Founder of the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria. She is based in Washington, but was in Paris today.

Nikolas Gvosdev is a professor of national security studies at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
 

This segment was produced by The Current Gord Westmacott and Leif Zapf-Gilje. 
 

RELATED LINKS

♦ U.S.-Russia Cooperation Is Not What Syrians Need - Rafif Jouejati, NY Times
♦ 5 messages Russia is sending the world - Nikolas Gvosdev, National Interest
♦ West 'ignored Russian offer in 2012 to have Assad step aside' - The Guardian

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