Amid growing indications that Russia is entering the Syrian Civil War, Russian military moves to strengthen its air forces are “alarming” to U.S. Air Force, according to a U.S. Air Force general.
U.S. General Frank Gorenc, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, told reporters on Monday about his concerns over Russia’s moves to beef up the quantity and quality of its aircraft and field unmanned aircraft ever since the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.
“The advantage that we had from the air, I can honestly say, is shrinking,” Gorenc stated, speaking at the annual Air Force Association conference.
Last week, ValueWalk reported that Russia is the only country in the world capable of destroying the U.S., as said by an American Ambassador Linton Brooks.
What Gorenc found especially “alarming” is the rate at which the Kremlin invests in modernizing its air force capabilities and equipment as well as building advanced surface-to-air missile defenses.
The General cited two examples of the latter: the defenses Russia managed to build around Crimea when annexing the peninsula in 2014 as well as Kaliningrad, an enclave between Poland and Lithuania.
Russia is now as challenging as China
It used to be China U.S. officials have been warning about its developments in defenses against U.S. fighters and bombers as well as surface-to-air missiles, but Russia is now challenging the U.S. in the same way, according to Gorenc.
“This is not just a Pacific problem; it is as significant in Europe as it is anywhere else on the planet,” he said. “I don’t think it’s controversial to say they’ve closed the gap in capability.”
The General urged U.S. Air Force to come up with new drills, tactics and procedures to respond to growing threats and capabilities of its potential military competitors and rivals, as well as protecting American and allied forces on the ground.
“We just need to be cognizant of it,” he said. “We just need to continue to work really hard to make sure that we can provide that.”
This week, the U.S. Air Force is carrying out the first ever deployment of an unmanned MQ-1 Predator drone in Latvia. Gorenc commented that such a deployment could help establish a more efficient use of drones in Europe.
Meanwhile, U.S.-led opposition forces in Syria have high chances to be confronted against Russian army in the region, according to Russian and Western media newspapers reporting on Russia’s recent moves to deploy soldiers and military equipment in Syria.
Russia’s sudden focus on Syria explained
Russia paves the way for high chances of a military confrontation between Washington and Moscow by deploying its troops and arms in Syria. Either that or the U.S. and Russia could unleash a war by proxy, according to many international media sources.
The Kremlin’s decision to suddenly focus on the Syrian Civil War and provide the Syrian government with military supplies and troops comes amid growing numbers of Syrian refugees attempting to enter the European Union.
What’s also important to note is that the Kremlin might have shifted its focus to Syria, as it thinks the West will take Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s side as the lesser evil compared to ISIS, which has been making quite major territorial gains recently.
From the one hand, such an approach might bring the four-year-and-a-half war to its end, since Russian intervention could significantly influence the situation in the region.
From the other hand, Russia’s military aid to Syria could prolong the conflict, since the Kremlin’s deployment of troops and arms is not in line with U.S. efforts to arm and train pro-Western Syrian rebels.
Is Russia-U.S. cooperation on Syria possible?
Russia has repeatedly claimed that it sends its troops and arms to Syria to fight against ISIS, however Washington interprets it as Russia’s efforts to protect its ally – al-Assad and his regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin might have chosen this strategy as he thinks the U.S. and Europe are not as eager to remove the Syrian government as they are to fight ISIS.
It must be noted that Europe has been talking about the kind of things that could not be imagined possible a year ago. U.K. Foreign Minister Philip Hammond recently suggested the coalition to find a compromise with Russia and Iran, both of which support the Syrian government.
Meanwhile, an Austrian diplomat Sebastian Kurz said that the West should consider starting to cooperate with the Syrian government in the war against ISIS.
However, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Arabic coalition countries would clearly not be okay with such cooperation.
West vs. Russia: Syrian war. Which side will ISIS take?
Another thing that could significantly heat up the Syrian conflict is that Russian soldiers might become targets for rebels in case they start to openly defend the al-Assad’s regime.
Then the conflict could spiral to a war by proxy, in which the U.S. would be arming opposition forces, while Russian troops would defend the Syrian government. The question is: which side would ISIS take?
However, such a scenario is unlikely to end the conflict in the nearest future. The Pentagon has just confirmed the presence of Russian troops as well as the new base in Syria, while there were reports that Russia’s newest tanks T-90 are deployed to the airbase near Latakia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged Tuesday to continue providing military support to the Syrian government amid growing claims that the Kremlin has already entered the Syrian Civil War.
Putin has also urged other countries to join Russia in sending “military-technical assistance” to Syria.
He said that the number of refugees fleeing to Europe would have been even ‘bigger’ without Russian support for the Syrian government.
“We support the government of Syria… in countering the terrorist aggression,” Putin said. “We provide and will continue to provide it with the necessary military technical assistance. And we urge other countries to join us.”
However, Putin noted that getting involved in military operations in Syria is not Russia’s intention when deploying military hardware and troops to Syria.
But that’s exactly what Putin said about his operation to annex Crimea in 2014: first he had denied that there were Russian troops present on the peninsula, but then he openly said that he had ordered Russian troops to ‘secure’ Crimea.