Russian President Vladimir Putin conducted air strikes in Syria last week. Originally he had claimed that the air strikes only targeted Islamic State areas, but Putin admitted later that he had targeted non-ISIS rebels in order to “shore the [Assad] regime in its weak spots.”
Putin is making a grave mistake by funneling support to Bashar Al-Assad. Supporting him will not bring to a screeching halt the war that has been waged against him for the past 5 years, no matter how much support Putin gives.
In fact, according to Vox, having Putin supporting Assad may be worse for him. “The Putin-Assad coalition, joined by Iran and Hezbollah, is dominated by Shias and other non-Sunni [Muslims], which will deepen the sectarian dynamics of the war. Given that Assad represents a sectarian minority in Syria, the more sectarian the war becomes, the more impossible it becomes for him to win.”
Targeting non-ISIS rebels may also bolster ISIS insurgents, which will, in the end, not increase Assad’s power at all and threaten Russia’s national security. According to Russian Insider, about 20 refugees enter Russia from Syria every day, adding up to 7,300 refugees each year, any one of which could be originally a soldier from ISIS.
Instead, Putin would be better off if he actually did what he said he would do, and target ISIS rebels. The proximity to Syria and large Muslim population in Russia gives ISIS a large recruitment field close to the war zone. As of December 2013, approximately 1,700 Chechen Russians were recruited and fighting for ISIS, according to the Syrian ambassador to Russia. According to an Islamist source in Raqqa, “Chechens are among the major groups in the ISIS military forces.”
Putin could also find a likely ally in the U.S. if this approach is taken. President Obama has repeatedly asked for more support against the Islamic State, calling for more support at the UN General Assembly this past week, according to the New York Times.
Ultimately, supporting Assad in Syria is a waste for Putin, and would hurt rather than help him. Assad is a divisive figure and will not garner any support if he survives this war. Russia’s best strategy is to protect themselves by allying with the U.S. in defeating ISIS.