Russia Update: Docile Russian Parliament Grants Putin Authority for Strikes in Syria in ‘National Interest’

September 30, 2015
President Vladimir Putin at a meeting today, September 30, 2015 with the Russian government. Photo by Konstantin Zavrazhin/Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Russia’s docile parliament swiftly and unanimously granted President Vladimir Putin authorization to make air strikes on Syria. The Kremlin compared the operation to the war in Tajikistan in the 1990s.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Chechen Leader Ready to Join the Fray in Syria if Called to Fight ISIS, ‘Most Evil Enemy of Islam’

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is ready to join the fray in Syria if Putin orders him to do so.

In a post on Instagram, his usual form of communication, Kadyrov uploaded an earlier picture of himself with President Vladimir Putin and said that he fully supports Putin’s decision to make airstrikes in Syria ostensibly against ISIS:

“I am convinced that terrorists must be liquidated in their lair. We cannot wait for them to come to our cities and villages. Russia’s actions will find broad support in the Muslim world since the Iblis state is the most evil enemy of Islam. Its bandits kill Muslims above all everywhere, violating the sacred precepts.

It is important that Russia acts strictly accordance to the norms of international law. The president of Syria has requested aid. We have responded positively. America, Australia, France and others are behaving like highway robbers.

Advisers will be needed in Syria. If RF Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin gives the order, we are prepared even tomorrow to send world-class specialists which don’t exist in the West. We have the experience, we have the knowledge.

Of course, it is not easy for the President to make a decision to use the Armed Forces in another country. We have until now limited ourselves to diplomatic and political channels for influencing the situation. But America and its partners are fanning the flames instead of putting out the hearth of the conflagration. And this hearth is right to us. Therefore Russia couldn’t wait. In this situation, we are obliged to forget domestic political discussions and decisively support the president, our armed forces, and our pilots on the front line!”

Yesterday September 29, Kadyrov said that “the West’s target in Syria is Assad, not the Iblis State organization,” using the term that Russian Muslim scholars use for ISIS.

Chechen fighters under the direct command of Kadyrov in the Chechen Interior Ministry Internal Troops were deployed in the war in eastern Ukraine, notably in the reconstituted Vostok Battalion and in the battles at the Donetsk Airport. Kadyrov at first denied that there were any Chechens in Ukraine except possibly a few volunteers, then recently assured the public that all Chechens involved in Ukraine had been brought home.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Docile Russian Parliament Grants Putin Authority for Strikes in Syria in ‘National Interest’; Operation Compared to Civil War in Tajikistan

The Russian military launched air strikes today in Syria, ostensibly to attack the positions of ISIS, although the areas where the first strikes have been occurring are those of rebels not affiliated with ISIS as we reported on our “Putin in Syria” blog.

In a statement for the Russian state media, President Vladimir Putin said:

 “The only true way to battle international terrorism — and in Syria and neighboring countries a gang of international terrorists are in fact rampaging — is to act preemptively, to battle and destroy the fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already seized and not wait for when they come to our house.”

Russian leaders have said as many as 2,400 Russian citizens have joined ISIS, mainly from the North Caucasus — an area of constant counter-terrorism operations against Islamist militants by Russian forces. There is some evidence that Russian intelligence has even helped some of these militants in fact to go to Syria to join ISIS.

The Federation Council or upper house of parliament met in a secret session early today to give Putin the green light for the air strikes. Last year, the parliament demonstratively granted Putin the power to formally use the Russian military in Ukraine, then withdrew it — and Russia invaded Ukraine anyway.

Valentina Matvienko, chair or speaker of the Federation Council announced the closed session to discuss Putin’s request, which was swiftly and unanimously granted with all 162 votes.

Sergei Ivanov, the head of the Kremlin’s administration, then announced the Federation Council’s decision and said the strikes were authorized in national interests (translation by The Interpreter):

“The military purpose of the operation is exclusively air support of the Syrian Armed Forces in their battle against ISIS.”

He added that the operation was “temporary” and that the types of armaments used in the operation would not be disclosed. Russia’s “national interest” was invoked because of the danger of returning fighters.

“Some of them have already returned to the territory of the Russian Federation. And it is easy to presume that they will go on returning to our territory. Thus, it is expedient to act preemptively and act in far-away places and not encounter this problem later at home in Russia. That I suppose is the most important.”

He said the purpose was “not to achieve any foreign police goals or satisfy any ambitions which our Western partners regularly accuse us of.”

Yesterday it was announced perhaps not coincidentally that
in the Siberian city of Tyumen Vitaly Makarov, an alleged supporter of
ISIS had been sentenced to two years of labor colony on September 25.
Nothing is known about the defendant and no press was admitted to the courtroom. FSB sources said the defendant
cooperated fully with Russian intelligence and admitted his guilt, which
may account for his light sentence.

Ivanov said that the air strikes in Syria were not Russia’s first military operation against terrorism abroad. “Many have possibly already forgotten but in the early 1990s, we did practically the same thing in Tajikistan.”

Russia intervened in Tajikistan’s civil war which is described by the Kremlin as a war between Soviet secularists against Islamist militants, although for those in the region, it was about a coalition of ethnic groups underrepresented in the national government along with some liberal democratic reformers in the United Tajik Opposition battling the Soviet-era elite in the national government. The war lasted from 1992 until 1997 when a peace agreement was signed and Russian troops established on the border which remain today. Estimates of those killed range from 50,000-100,000. At least 52 journalists were killed in the civil war in Tajikistan, more than anywhere else in that era except Algeria.

Ivanov also mentioned that “all social and financial issues related to the support of the servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces who will be deployed in this operation will be observed and all decisions in this regard have been taken.”

This was likely a reference to the fact that Russian soldiers deployed in the war in Ukraine were not taking part in a declared military operation, and then they or their families faced difficulties collecting compensation if they were wounded, or killed.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick