Russia Strikes in Syria

Photo via EPA (Vice News)

After the clashing of glasses and discourses at the UNGA, media headlines were again dominated by diverging narratives on military intervention in Syria. More particular discrepancies like separation of terrorist groups from opposition forces became most apparent in the documented patterns of airstrikes in Syria.

American sources such as the Wall Street Journal claimed that efforts by the U.S. and allies to fight the Islamic State have been “complicated by Russian and Iranian backing of President Bashar al-Assad.” Supported by a range of statements from intelligence officials, the mainstream media predominately attributed Moscow’s air campaign to the “buttressing” of Assad’s regime. Among the key points within this narrative was concern over Russia’s targeting of Syrian rebel groups backed by the CIA, including those most politically threatening to the Syrian leader. More critical assessments indicated that Moscow’s targeting of Islamic State and “other terrorists” was consistent with the Syrian government’s terminology for all of its opponents.

Official Russian sources presented the bombing of Syria as manifestation of the Russian Federation’s commitment to fighting ISIS. On the other hand, these outlets proposed that the U.S. not only sought excuses to back down from fighting ISIS, but also to avoid meaningful cooperation with the Russian Federation. Vesti.ru further accused Western media of fueling the information war against Russia, claiming that the reports of civilian causalities served as material for advancing geopolitical agenda. Official discourse also included appropriation from other Western media sources:

“The West failed in Syria. The West didn’t intervene when it was possible and now there is nothing left but observe Putin’s actions, who can behave according to his discretion. The force of Putin is based on the weakness of the West.”

Der Spigel *according to vesti.ru

DUBBED traced the quote back to the original article in Der Spigel and found its context to be highly critical of Assad and his supporters. Among the author’s main arguments was Assad’s responsibility for civil war and resulting irreconcilability of his regime. More comprehensive presentation of the aforementioned quote also directed strong criticism at Putin’s involvement in the region:

“The West has failed in Syria. It did not intervene when it would still have been possible, and now it has to watch how Putin does what he wants. But Putin’s strength comes mainly from the weakness of the West…. Since the West does not know what it wants, but Putin does: keep his ally Assad in power.”

Der Spigel, “Civil War in Syria: Assad is the Problem, not the Solution

German media produced other articles critical of Russian actions in Syria, including a piece titled “Airstrikes in Syria: Russia is boasting about hundreds of dead rebels.” As a whole, the conflict was presented among larger considerations of a Russo-American struggle. Media sources repeatedly employed the label of “the West” in discussion on Russian military strikes, but specific mention was rarely made to the German stance. Such rhetoric was most apparent in commentary on the response of NATO to “Russia’s Great Power Play.”

Although sources like ERR published distinguished opinion pieces, the Estonian media remained heavily reliant upon American assessment of the civil war in Syria. Russian motivations for intervention were repeatedly called in to question, as authors noted that the attacks were directed against forces other than those of the Islamic State. These sources went as far as to suggest that Russia’s destabilization of the region actually provided an environment conducive to ISIS operations. 

Lithuanian press also speculated on the potential consequences of Russian intervention, including complication of strategic partnerships in the region and general strengthening of the Islamic State and al Qaeda. As in the case of Estonian media, discursive boundaries appeared to remain well within the boundaries of the mainstream American narrative. Particular emphasis was placed on direct references to the U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby and his often quoted observation that “more than 90 percent of air strikes carried out by Russia until now were not targeted against ISIS and al Qaeda related terrorists.”

Credit Alexander Kots/Komsomolskaya Pravda, via Associated Press

“Russian technicians attached a bomb to a plane at a base in Syria on Saturday. Russian officials say their airstrikes are targeting the Islamic State, but they have mainly hit other insurgents.” – New York Times, “Russian Soldiers Join Syria Fight

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