Russia wants more of its allies to join the fight in Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
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Thomson Reuters

Russia is pushing its allies to join the fight in Syria in hopes of broadening its influence in the Middle East, Uran Botobekov wrote in a Jamestown Foundation report.

The chairman of the Russian State Duma Defense Committee, Col. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, said in late June that Moscow was in talks with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan about deploying their forces to Syria to help monitor the conflict, Botobekov said.

Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are both part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet satellites that also includes Armenia, Belarus, and Tajikistan.

“Shamanov’s statement seems to indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to expand the number of allied governments active in Syria that would support Moscow’s military actions there,” Botobekov writes.

After the Astana talks in early May – in which Russia, Turkey, and Iran set up de-escalation zones in Syria supposedly to try to reduce the fighting – Tehran and Ankara agreed to allow more countries in as observers, and a Turkish envoy admitted that Moscow had proposed sending troops from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to Syria.

But Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan do not seem so intent on sending troops to Syria, according to Botobekov.

Hmeymim base russia syria

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Hmeymim air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.
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REUTERS/Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry via Reuters

Both have said, among other things, that the UN would need to pass a resolution first. Botobekov also said that Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan do not want to upset their Sunni Muslim citizens, since Syrian President Bashar Assad is Shiite and Syrian opposition forces are Sunni.

Ultimately, Botobekov writes, Moscow’s desire to bring more allies into the fight is a “PR campaign directed primarily at the West” and that “President Putin wants to announce to the world that Russia is still an international force to be reckoned with.”

Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst with Stratfor, had a slightly different take, however, saying in a written statement that “Russia is keen to share the burden with other countries, as it doesn’t want to find itself taking over the bulk of what would undoubtedly be a vey dangerous mission … Due to [Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan’s] strong relationship with Turkey, they would be acceptable to Ankara.”

Turkey expects the two other guarantor nations to discuss the possible use of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan troops at their next round of Astana talks in late July.

Read the full Jamestown Foundation article here.