With Palmyra still under ISIS control, and with ISIS threatening to capture Deir Ezzor, the Russian military has once against blamed the military crisis in eastern Syria on the US.
The Russian military first did so in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Palmyra in December when it complained – rightly – that the reason ISIS was able to send troops to Palmyra from Mosul and Raqqa was because ISIS is under no real pressure there.
The Head of the Main Operations Department of Russia’s General Staff, Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoi, has now blamed the US again, claiming that the increase of ISIS fighters in eastern Syria is directly linked to the US-led operations against ISIS in Mosul
The actions of the US-led coalition grouping near the Iraqi city of Mosul have largely boiled down to edging out considerable forces of the ISIL [the former name of the IS] towards the eastern part of Syria where militants are moving weapons, explosives and manpower almost unimpededly towards Palmyra, Deir ez-Zor and also the town of al-Bab bordering on Turkey
That this was what would happened – and even that it was planned in advance – was being said by many people at the very start of the Mosul operation in October. Here for example is what Vaughan Famularo wrote in The Duran on 19th October 2016
The Russian news media RIA Novosti, has revealed that US and Saudi leaders have decided to allow the safe passage of 9000 ISIS terrorists to vacate Mosul in Iraq and, relocate into Syria.
The surprising information was leaked by an anonymous diplomatic source. It was also claimed that this decision was conditional on the terrorists agreeing to fight Syrian and Russian troops in Palmyra and Deir Ezzor.
There is probably some truth to this claim. ISIS’s forces in Mosul are not encircled, and with ISIS now finally driven out of the eastern part of the city across the Tigris, it is possible that some of ISIS’s fighters are choosing to escape from Mosul in order to join the fight in Syria. Whether the number comes to 9,000 fighters is another matter.
There are now reports that Iraqi troops have launched an attack aimed at trying to close the Syrian border, presumably in order to prevent ISIS fighters escaping from Mosul fleeing to Syria. The joint operation by Russia and Turkey at Al-Bab may also be intended by Moscow to pave the way for more Turkish operations against ISIS in eastern Syria to deal with the current crisis.
General Rudskoi’s comments show how seriously the Russians are treating this crisis, with the Russians claiming to be concerned about further threats from ISIS against Palmyra’s monuments
We’ve received evidence confirmed by several sources a large amount of explosives is being moved to Palmyra. Islamic State terrorists are plotting to wipe out the world’s historical heritage in that city
and with the Russians also warning of a genocide in the event of ISIS’s capture of Deir Ezzor
The situation remains difficult in the Deir ez-Zor area, the city has been besieged by the IS terrorists for around three years. Taking advantage of their numerical superiority, the militants continue to attack the positions of the Syrian troops. In case the city is taken by terrorists, the residents will face a true genocide. The population of Deir ez-Zor may be exterminated
ISIS’s advance in eastern Syria cannot threaten the security of the Syrian government in faraway Damascus. The heartland of Syria’s power is in the populous coastal districts of the west. With eastern Aleppo recaptured, the countryside around Damascus largely secured, the towns of Hama and Homs firmly under the Syrian government’s control, and with the Al-Qaeda led Jihadis driven out of most of Latakia province, advances by ISIS in the desert regions of Syria’s east cannot threaten the survival of Syria’s government.
Nonetheless neither Syria nor Russia nor ultimately any of the surrounding countries (Turkey, Iran and Jordan) can tolerate a force like ISIS in control of eastern Syria if only because of the threat it poses to all of them. Nor on any objective assessment of its own interests can the US.
What this situation urgently requires is much closer cooperation between all these parties, to ensure that crises of the sort we are now seeing do not recur as a result of ISIS shifting its forces from one front to another as it seeks to compensate for losses in one area by making gains in another.
Up to now that level of cooperation has been lacking, which is why the crisis in eastern Syria has arisen in the first place.
Possibly with Russia and Turkey now cooperating against ISIS with each other, and with the arrival in Donald Trump of a US President who genuinely seems committed to defeating ISIS as opposed to using ISIS to undermine the Syrian government, that cooperation may now happen.