As Russian planes target IS in Syria the West remains apprehensive fearing Russia will go too far

‘There’s just a hill separating us. We men have gotten used to this, but we fear for our women and children. Our fear for them never leaves us’.

The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen called it, ‘the sentiment shared throughout Syria’s opposition-held territories’. The words are those of Tarek Balsha, a local to the area currently living in the Hama province, on the Ghab plain.

‘By God, I just heard [the Russian fighters]’.

So far, we know that Russian airstrikes have hit nine locations, and initially the US cautiously welcomed Russian involvement, but we now know that Russia’s airstrikes have gone slightly further than just targeting Islamic State as originally intended. They now appear to have targeted opposition groups – the people who are taking control of the territory from al-Assad – and also appear to be targeting Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al-Quaeda wing in the area.

The world hasn’t taken quite too kindly to this idea of Russian intervention.

Take for example the statement issued by the US-led coalition of countries against IS, consisting of the US, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK. They claim that, ‘These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization’. The same coalition targeted IS in 28 airstrikes on Thursday.

Residents of the affected regions now believe that the US has reached an agreement with Russia to preserve the Assad regime and leadership. There is increasing sympathy for al-Quaeda. A resident of a town struck by Russian aircraft, Mohammed, told the Guardian: ‘The people know now that it is a war against Syrians’.

Needless to say, tensions are high. But are there any positives to the Russian airstrikes? I may or may not be playing devil’s advocate, but I’m about to say that there may well be.

Let’s first take a look at what we think the Moscow strategy is. The airstrikes are mostly hitting central and north-western Syria, these being significant as they form the gateways to Damascus and to the coast. Seems OK. But then you see that Russia has bombed areas to the west of Raqqa, the area known as IS’ Caliphate: their central governing area. This is apparently the first time that IS officials have been hit.

Aleksey Pushkov is a top Russian foreign affairs official, and he’s been one of the people who is heavily critical of Western criticism. On Twitter, he wrote: ‘The US is criticising Russia for “lack of selectivity in our targets” in Syria. So what stopped them from picking the right targets over a whole year, rather than just pointlessly bombing the desert?!’.

As of the 17th of September 2015, the ISIS death toll as a result of British airstrikes alone stands at 330. We began action in Britain on the 12th of August last year under Operation Shader, and many people think that this is not good enough. Perhaps the West should be pleased that strategic action is finally being taken?

Syria has expressed support for the Russian regime, encouraging other governments to join in with them, claiming the Russian regime is the only one that is legal under international law and is the ‘non-criminal’ plan. Iran has also expressed support, but Saudi Arabia is against and Israel has some concerns.

However, I’m not fully in support of Russian intervention by any standards. The New York Times said that Putin is ‘effectively putting a target on himself in the eyes of all Sunni Muslims’. It’s also worth noting that Jabhat al-Nusra has put up a reward of 2.5 million Syrian pounds (around $13,000) for the seizure of Russian soldiers.

We already know where the UK and the rest of the coalition stands on Russian intervention. I quote from the Anti-IS Coalition: ‘We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL’.

Attitudes are mixed, and understandably so: we should allow people to remain sceptical. It seems that right now, only time will tell if Russia will achieve a positive outcome or not.

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