Putin bolstered by anti-Islamic State pact ahead of talks

Moscow concern over IS enlistment of 2,000 radicals from Russia’s Muslim republics

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday branded US support for rebel forces in Syria as illegal and ineffective, saying US-trained rebels were leaving to join Islamic State with weapons supplied by Washington. Video: Reuters


When Russian president Vladimir Putin meets his US counterpart Barack Obama today in their first encounter in two years, the Russian leader will be at a considerable advantage.

His military is not only expanding its presence and role in Syria but has also agreed to set up an anti-Islamic State (IS) joint operations command with Iran, Syria and US ally Iraq.

“It’s a committee co-ordinating between four countries, with representatives of each country, in the field of military intelligence and aimed at sharing and analysing information,” stated Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for prime minister Haidar al-Abbadi. The centre will focus on “monitoring the movements of terrorists . . . and degrading their capacity” to take and hold territory.

Formation of the joint command came as Moscow has expressed concern over the recruitment to IS ranks of 2,000 radicals from Russian Federation Muslim republics.

Ahead of today’s address to the UN General Assembly, Putin discussed with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman efforts to build effective international co-operation against IS and resolve Syria’s crisis through negotiations. Putin seeks to expand the US-led anti-IS coalition to include his country, Iran and the Syrian army.

Riyadh is unlikely to go along. Saudi Arabia has funded and armed IS and other jihadi groups in Syria and continues to insist on the ouster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia and Iran.

However, since the US, Britain, and Germany have expressed willingness to include him in negotiations, they could exert pressure on the Saudis to alter their stand. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also demands Assad’s removal, has agreed he could stay on for some time.

Moscow’s moves coincide with US revelations that 30,000 IS fighters may have entered the Syria-Iraq theatre of war during the past year, and Washington’s admission that US-deployed Syrian officers handed over vehicles and ammunition to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in northern Syria in exchange for a free passage through Nusra-controlled territory. The latter amounted to a third debacle for the $500 million US programme of training and deploying “moderate” Syrian fighters to take on IS. So far, only about 125 of a proposed 5,000 have signed up and have been trained and sent into Syria from bases in Turkey, and only four or five of the initial 54 survived capture by Nusra.

Peshmerga rift

To make matters worse for the US coalition, Kurdish peshmerga forces, the most successful militias fighting IS in Iraq, are at odds due to rivalry between the Kurdish Democratic Party led by Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan headed by Jalal Talabani. Bad blood has been caused by Barzani’s appropriation of most foreign supplied arms and ammunition for his peshmerga while denying materiel to Talabani’s forces occupying the city and oil fields of Kirkuk.

Tensions in the Kurdish region have also been heightened by Turkish air strikes against Turkish Kurdish guerillas based in the mountains of northern Iraq and in southeastern Turkey as well as Ankara’s actions to curb Syrian Kurdish militiamen. These latter have taken control of the northeastern border between Syria and Turkey and exerted military pressure on IS in Raqqa province.