Moscow accused the US on Tuesday of reducing its airstrikes on Daesh in Iraq to allow terrorists to enter Syria and fight Bashar Assad’s army.
The Syrian regime was trying to drive radical fighters out of eastern Deir Ezzor province, but arrivals from Iraq were boosting their numbers, military spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
The US-led coalition sharply reduced its strikes on Iraq in September, as Syrian forces were beginning to retake Deir Ezzor, Konashenkov said. “Is this change in approach from the US and the coalition a bid to cause maximum disruption to the Syrian Army, backed by the Russian air force, as it seeks to free Syrian territory to the east of the river Euphrates?”
It is not the first time Russia has accused the US of “pretending” to fight Daesh. “This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black,” Anna Borshchevskaya, Russian scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News.
In fact, she said, Russia had been “pretending to fight Daesh since September 2015,” while its real aim was to protect President Bashar Assad. “Russia’s presence in Syria, in general, made military operations more difficult by raising the risk of clashes, while the US objective in Syria has always been to fight Daesh.”
Mark N. Katz, professor of government and politics at Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University, told Arab News: “The Russian logic here does not make sense. How does the US bombing Daesh less in Iraq, if that is what is happening, serve to push Daesh forces into Syria? It seems to me that more US bombing in Iraq would be more likely to do this. Less US bombing in Iraq, by contrast, might allow Daesh forces to remain in Iraq.”
Moscow was accusing the US of doing what Russia itself had done, Katz said. “When Putin first intervened in Syria in September 2015, he claimed that Russian forces were targeting Daesh. Instead, they targeted the non-Daesh fighters that were then more of a threat to the Assad regime.
“Now that Daesh seems to be on the decline in Syria, Russia has turned its attention to it, because it doesn’t want the territory Daesh loses to be taken over by US allies.”
Russian thinking reflected a tendency to impute to others the Machiavellian strategies that they themselves employed, Katz said. “In other words, the Russians are accusing the US of aiding Daesh because this is what they themselves have done, and may well do again if they thought it would benefit them against their other adversaries.”
Moscow has repeatedly accused the US in the past month of hindering the Russian-backed regime offensive in the east of Syria. Russia has been conducting an aerial bombing campaign in Syria since 2015, when it intervened to support Assad’s rule and tipped the conflict in his favor.