Since September 30th, 2015 Russia has been attempting to defend Syria militarily. Syria is Russia's main middle eastern alley, and has been since the Russians signed diplomatic relations with them back in July 1944 and helped form the Syrian Arab Army. Right now Russia is spending about $4 million per day fighting in Syria according to figures from IHS Jane’s, a defense analysis group.
Yet this may not be the full cost as it does not include all expenditures such as cruise missile assaults, according to sources like IBT. It's also not including the $4 Billion in forgiven arms contract debts, $10 Billion in forgiven pre-Russian debts, $20 billion in company investments, hundreds of millions in humanitarian aid according to the Washington Post. Quite a bill for a country with a GDP smaller then size of the New York State GDP. Yet because oil prices account for 52% of Russia's total federal budget revenues and because Russia has a prized warm-water naval port in Tarturas, it's not hard to see why Russia is lacking frugality in defending its ally.
To be fair Syria has devolved into a proxy war for multiple different factions, the US being among them. Yet since last year reports have been flooding out of Syria that the Russians have begun to use cluster bombs on civilian locations. Cluster bombs are a type of bomb that releases a number of projectiles to create a larger kill zone. They often use a type of metal powder known as thermite that ignites while while the bombs are falling, thermite is one of the hottest burning man-made substance in the world. Unfortunately, in October of last year Human Rights Watch alerted us that Russia was developing and testing new deadlier forms of cluster bombs and testing them in the Syrian conflict.
Despite the enormous and recurring evidence and video's, Russia has maintained that they are not using cluster bombs. Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying "As for cluster munitions allegations. The Russian aviation are not using them." After a Amnesty International report came out contradicting the Major, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Ria Novosti publicly replied to the report saying "We have studied the report — again, there was nothing precise and new published there. The same cliches and fakes that we have often disproved earlier. The report if full of such expressions as 'presumably Russian airstrikes', 'possible international law violations' and so on. Sheer assumptions without any proof."
Unfortunately for them the state sponsored news outlet RT accidentally filmed and leaked footage of fully loaded RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM cluster bombs on Russian jets as they were covering Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister, visiting Hmeymim airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia last Saturday.
Bloggers immediately picked up on the video and began telling everyone about it.
Once RT picked up on their error, the film was then edited so that the scene showing the cluster bombs was replaced by a scene in a strategy room.
But it was too late, the information was already going viral on the internet. Anton Vorontsev, a spokesman for Russia Today, confirmed that RT had edited the film but claimed they did so to protect the Russian fighter pilot identity. Yet after groups like the Conflict Intelligence Team began saying that RT had intentionally attempted to cover up war crimes. RT then reverted it's decision saying "Upon re-evaluation it was deemed that the frame did not pose any risks; it had since been restored and the video is up in its original cut." Still news agencies like the BBC quickly picked up on the flip flop and are reported on it.
Russia and Syria are quick to point out that they are not party to the UN convention banning cluster bombs. Yet Russia is a party to the UN’s Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects. Article 2 of Protocol III to the Convention bans the use of any incendiary weapons on civilian objects and air-dropped incendiary weapons on military objects in residential areas.
Tensions from the use of these weapons is reaching new levels. Recently Russia has begun to ignore US warnings to avoid targeting US trained anti-ISIS rebels whom supposedly have a truce with Syria and Russia. Just last Thursday on June 16, over the skies of al-Tanf, Russian Su-34 bombers ignored US warnings and began dropping cluster bombs upon an anti-ISIS border garrison.
The US repeatedly attempted to contact Russia, even using the special direct hotline to the Kremlin, but when that failed the U.S. Navy in response armed and scrambled it's F/A-18 fighters. As the jet fighters met the Russian Su-34's a tense standoff ensued. It was actually the American F/A-18 pilots that were finally able to diffuse the situation by conversing directly with the Russian aviators over a communications channel set up to avoid air accidents.
Once the Russian Su-34's began to withdraw the American F/A-18's flew back to refuel. Yet once the Americans had left the area the Russian Su-34's turned around and began bombing the first responders aiding the border garrison. So far it’s still unclear just how close the U.S. came to attacking and potentially shooting down the Su-34s over At Tanf but it represents one of the closest points since the cold war of direct fighting between the two nations. The last time a U.S. military warplane shot down a Russian plane was all the way back in 1953. The move is curious since as the LA Times reported, the Russian planes had not previously been active over At Tanf.
This is becoming more and more common as a similar episode last November between Russia and Turkey ended with Turkish F-16 fighter shooting down a Russian Su-24 when it began flying into Turkish airspace despite warnings. As well as Russian aviators repeatedly buzzing the decks of US war ships.
Putin himself is also ratcheting up tensions, "Russia will take adequate measures to counter NATO's increasingly aggressive rhetoric" President Vladimir Putin told MPs at the closing session of the State Duma. "NATO is strengthening its aggressive rhetoric and its aggressive actions near our borders. In these conditions, we are duty-bound to pay special attention to solving the task of strengthening the combat readiness of our country." On Tuesday, Vladimir Komoyedov, the head of the Defense Committee of Russia's State Duma said "Everyone understands that these are not some peace doves that fly to us to feed from our hands. These are the beasts that, once allowed to react to the alleged Russian ‘aggression,’ would bite off the whole hand up to the shoulder and wouldn’t even choke on it."
The comments come after the EU decided to lengthen the Russian sanctions until 2017 and NATO officially recognized the type of Cyberwarfare displayed by Russia and China as an open act of war. Putin's are chilling words to the West especially just after the commander of US ground forces in Europe, General Ben Hodges, said in a news report Wednesday "Russia could take over the Baltic states faster than we would be able to defend them."
Syria has become an oozing sore upon the earth that is leaking not only terror and genocide but also global tension. I do not pretend to know what the outcome of such events will impact the future, yet one thing is definitely certain, only the dead have seen the end of war.