Putin Uses Islamic State as Cover for Russia’s Real Objectives in Syria

Putin Uses Islamic State as Cover for Russia’s Real Objectives in Syria
Russian flags in front of the ancient ruins of Palmyra, Syria, April 8, 2016 (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service photo via AP).

Only hours after the chief representative of the Syrian rebels at the Geneva peace talks announced his resignation Sunday, citing the “stubbornness of the regime and its continued bombardments and aggression toward the Syrian people,” a new wave of air assaults battered the rebel-held city of Idlib, killing dozens of civilians. The respected Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian planes might have conducted the bombings, which struck close to a hospital.

Moscow rejected the accusation, but the overwhelming evidence, regardless of the specifics in Idlib, underscores the fundamental deception at the core of Russia’s involvement in Syria, and the shroud of cynicism that continues to envelop it.

From the outset of its intervention in Syria, Russia tried to portray its campaign at home and abroad as a push against the self-declared Islamic State. That narrative, while deliberately misleading, made a good cover story. Amid the current fog of Middle East conflict, with tangled alliances knotting conflicting agendas and partially overlapping geopolitical objectives, the Islamic State is the only actor whose behavior and objectives are universally reviled by the civilized world. The terrorist group has earned universal ignominy with its self-styled caliphate, replete with videotaped decapitations and public slave markets. Who could challenge the moral value of fighting against it?

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