As Russia moves fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles to a Syrian military base near Latakia, which also boasts Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery, both U.S. and Israeli officials express concern over military escalation and Russian intentions in Syria.
“What I worry about is if they make a mistake and miscalculate and do something that would violate our NATO agreement,” said General Ray Odierno, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, who is also concerned that Russia may pose a threat to the U.S., according to CNN.
Russian officials say that the nation’s military presence is part of its regular military support to Syria. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have said that conquering the rebel forces that fight Syrian troops is the only way to stop the outpouring of refugees from Syria and bring peace back to the nation.
Since 2011, the year the war in Syria began, civilian deaths number at least 85,000, by most estimates; another 4.1 million have fled their homes, prompting a massive refugee crisis in Europe.
As Russia expands its role in Syria, the U.S. government is struggling to decipher Russia’s true intentions; some officials believe Putin may simply be protecting Russian assets, while others think he is betting on Assad’s survival or that he may be laying the groundwork for a large Russian presence in a post- Assad Syria.
The U.S. has expressed discontent with Assad and implored him to step down. The U.S. also suspended military relations with Russia last year over the Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
In a press release, Obama warned against Russia’s continued military invention.
“We are going to be engaging Russia to let them know that you can’t continue to double down on a strategy that’s doomed to failure,” he said.
According to CNN, there is no indication that the Russians will change their minds. In his own press release, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his military strategies. “We’ve been providing and will be providing all necessary technical assistance and will call on other countries to join us,” Putin said. “If Russia hadn’t been supporting Syria, the situation would be worse…and we would see more refugees.”
“We just have to face the fact that Russia is coming back,” former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark, stated in an interview with CNN. “This is a different kind of threat…a threat to the stability of the international order, to NATO, to the European Union, to the system and structuring of the world that we have taken for granted since the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Clark warned that the U.S. must avoid what Putin would call psychological warfare, a tactic to scare the U.S. military out of intervening in future Russian military affairs. “He’s been demonstrating his ability to reach out and touch us,” he said, “They’re attempting to impact our mentality right now…and we have to have the means to counter his forces.”