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Western obsession with toppling Assad hinders struggle against Islamic State

Both the West and Russia are aware of the terrible threat the extremist Islamic State poses to all, but they are greatly divided as far as the tactics of struggle against it is concerned, analysts say. For the United States and the leading European powers the ousting of the Bashar Assad regime remains number one aim, however horrible the terrorists may be.

Tensions inside Syria and around it have been soaring to new highs. The United States has urged Greece to close its airspace to Russian planes delivering relief supplies to Syria. Several days before that US Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced concern over media reports Moscow might step up its military presence in Syria. The media and social networks have been discussing rumors about the possibility Russian military might take part in the struggle against the Islamists side by side with Syrian government forces.

The Russian authorities have said many a time the question of sending Russian military to Syria to fight the Islamic State, let alone participation of Russian aviation in strikes against the terrorists, is not on the agenda. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Monday said Lavrov in his conversation with Kerry "drew the US Secretary of State's attention to the comment Russian President Vladimir Putin made in Vladivostok to the effect that discussing the possibility of Russia's participation in military operations in Syria was premature for the time being." Lavrov, Zakharova said, pointing out that Moscow had never made a secret of its "supplies of military hardware to the Syrian authorities for fighting with terrorists."

The leading European countries have grown increasingly active. France is beginning reconnaissance flights over Syria on Tuesday in the first step to join the international coalition against the Islamic State. The British Parliament in October will consider Prime Minister David Cameron's proposal for launching a military operation in Syrian territory. Cameron linked the solution of the migrant crisis in Europe with the need for dealing air strikes against Syria, where, in his opinion, the Bashar Assad regime and the Islamic State are destabilizing the situation.

"Certain changes in the policies of all players follow the Islamic State's expansion. There has been growing awareness this is a serious threat," the deputy president of the Russian Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Irina Zvyagelskaya, has told TASS. "It should be recognized that the Russia and the Western countries differ in their approach to the general situation: we believe that Bashar Assad and his government is objectively fighting against this evil. In the meantime the Western countries argue that if Assad goes, everything will get well overnight."

Apparently some intermediate option should be identified and a transitional government set up, because nothing will work without that dialogue says Zvyagelskaya. "Assad enjoys certain support from the population. His regime is far from ideal, but minorities were living a rather calm life under the Assads. For the time being there is no political alternative or other institutions. One has to admit that objectively Assad is fighting against this terrible evil."

The US request to Greece for not letting Russian aircraft through its airspace is evidence of Washington's "political shortsightedness," Zvyagelskaya believes. "We are in a very confrontational context. Regrettably, it impairs our cooperation there where it is necessary."

There is no Russian military presence in Syria as such, but weapons supplies under the effective contracts are going on, senior research fellow Boris Dolgov, of the Arab Research Centre at the Oriental Studies Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, has told TASS. "There is a possibility these weapons are being delivered with Russian military advisers and specialists present at the moment of the handover; besides the same specialists are expected to train Syrian military under the contract terms. Also, there are some Russian military specialists at the Russian Navy's logistics facility. This is not exactly one may call growing presence, though."

The fuss in the western media is part of the propaganda campaign, Dolgov said. "After the Assad regime's hypothetical fall the terrorists' rise to power will be unavoidable," he warns. "After the four-year-long fighting the Syrian army is still capable of conducting large-scale operations against IS militants."

As far as the migrant crisis in Europe is concerned, after Assad's fall which Britain and France are so eager to see, it will turn from bad to worse. "Syria will fall apart and many more millions of refugees will flock to Europe's doorstep. That policy is suicidal for the European countries."

"Russia's stance on Syria remains unchanged," an adviser to the director of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Yelena Suponina told TASS. "Assad's resignation as a precondition for the beginning of negotiations is not on the agenda.

The operation by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State has continued for more than a year now. But the IS is still there, and it is growing stronger, Suponina said.

"The Americans tend to confuse struggle against terrorists and efforts to overthrow Assad. This explains why Russia is absent from that coalition. Moscow is well aware that today the United States may be talking about struggle against terrorism, but tomorrow it may turn out that in reality it seeks another replacement of the regime. The effects of this will be far more grave," she warned.

[Source: By Lyudmia Alexandrova, Itar Tass, Moscow, 08Sep15]

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