On Sept. 30, under the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia began launching a series of airstrikes in central and northwest Syria against the terrorist group, ISIS. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has welcomed Russia’s new campaign while condemning efforts made by the United States to thwart the spread of ISIS’s influence and control. According to the BBC, Assad has proclaimed that, rather than diminishing ISIS, the U.S.-led coalition targeting the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria has further spread terrorism throughout the region.
ISIS rose to power with the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011, which began as an outcry against Assad’s authoritarian leadership and has further developed into a clash for power. Territory is divided among Assad’s government, ISIS, rebel groups and Kurdish fighters, each of which exert their own rule throughout Syria. Since 2011, the civil war has resulted in over 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees. The refugee crisis has brought greater attention worldwide to the war, with governments scrambling to find temporary relief for the displaced Syrians. Meanwhile, the civil war has created a divide between countries whom are allies to Assad, such as Russia and Iran, and those who believe that he must relinquish his power in order to once again find stability in the region. The countries that oppose Assad’s regime, including the U.S., Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia and Great Britain, have denounced Russia’s decision to lead an airstrike in Syria. The Russian command has announced that it will intensify its airstrikes on ISIS’s posts, and that the Russian air force has already seen success through its offensive campaign that has resulted in the bombing of at least 10 ISIS posts. When speaking with the BBC, British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attacks, claiming that, “What is happening is that they are backing the butcher Assad, which is a terrible mistake for them and for the world.”
Meanwhile, Putin’s decision to pursue the airstrikes in Syria has offered a temporary distraction from the criticism he has received as a result of the faltering Russian economy and involvement in Ukraine. The government-controlled television station Channel One, according to the New York Times, has shown Russian jets hitting ISIS targets with unprecedented accuracy. The program, however, neglected to mention all of the civilians who were also hit and Syrian activists claim the airstrikes have caused dozens of fatalities. According to The Guardian, John Kirby, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, stated that, “Greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against Isil [ISIS] or al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists.” While the television program does not report on the civilian casualties resulting from misguided missile projections, Putin has been supported by a majority of the Russian citizens for his involvement in Syria. The RT reported that a recent poll conducted by the Levada Center found that “72 percent of Russians are positive about the airstrikes on Islamic State positions.” Putin’s firm stance and support for involvement in Syria is seen by the Russian citizens as a welcoming act of defiance against the global power of the U.S. and its coalition-allies.
The Russian airstrikes have exposed a political divide between global leaders over how to deal with the Syrian civil war and address the growing influence of ISIS. Assad has lauded Putin’s actions as the most effective way to deal with what the Syrian government deems “terrorists” encompassing all opposition forces to the Assad regime. Since launching the airstrikes, Russia has begun a naval mission in conjunction with a ground mission launched by Syria. Russia’s increasing presence in Syria has been welcomed by Assad, as the forced continue to weaken the political holdings of rebel groups. While Russia has said that the attacks are the best way to decimate ISIS’s power, U.S. government officials have spoken with disapproval of direct militaristic actions in Syria.