''We aren’t able to protect our own bases, it’s slovenliness of the Defence Ministry''
Who attacked the Russian base in Syrian Hmeymin? Expert in Near East Leonid Isayev’s opinion
The Russian Hmeymin air base in Syria has been attacked twice on the last two days organised with the aid of unmanned vehicles. Information about losses and victims is quite contradictory. Realnoe Vremya's correspondent turned to political expert and Arabist Leonid Isayev to explain the situation. In the interview with our online newspaper, the expert told about slovenliness in the Russian Ministry of Defence and groups that could have staged the attack of drones.
Leonid, who attacked the Russian Hmeymin air base? The media says about Ahrar al-Sham and Ahrar al-Alawi.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for this attack. Whoever could have done it. I don't think it was profitable for Ahrar al-Sham to do it. It is clear that such acts psych up for a firmer position from Russia. On the threshold of the negotiations when the opposition has enough vulnerable points, such attacks seem senseless. As much as Russia will be interested in pressing Assad's regime, so possible it will be to achieve some concessions from it.
On the other hand, it's not very clear why right the Russian base has been attacked. Whom should we blame? Only ourselves. Firstly, we aren't able to protect our own bases, which demonstrates slovenliness and laxity of the Defence Ministry. What is bombardment? Grad also could have been affected – then nothing could have left. Secondly, we had been reaching de-escalation for a long time and put a lot of effort: we had negotiations among different sides in different places and presented it as our major peacemaking efforts last year. In addition, as much as we agreed on the de-escalation zone in East Ghouta, the regime (Editor's Note: that of Assad) continued to fire on this Ghouta as it did before. And we turned a blind eye to it. Why are we surprised now that the opposition doesn't follow this ceasefire regime? It's a normal reaction of the opposition. If we can't make the Syrian government follow the ceasefire regime, why are we waiting for the same from the opposition? It doesn't justify the attack on the Russian base anyway. It's not a sensible step for the opposition, and it's difficult to say who really did it.
As much as Russia will be interested in pressing Assad's regime, so possible it will be to achieve some concessions from it
What an organisation is Ahrar al-Sham that is mentioned in the media?
Ahrar al-Sham is one of the most effective oppositionist groups in Syria nowadays. It has good positions in the land, participates in the negotiation process. One year ago, it was recognised by the Russian Federation as moderate oppositionist group we're having negotiations with. Representatives of this structure take part in the work of the High Negotiation Committee, in Geneva talks, we invited them to negotiate in Astana many times. It's the case when the organisation has real control over certain territory in Syria and is really represented in the negotiations. There are few of such structures.
They are told to be supported from Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey. Who is behind this group?
It's difficult to say who supports it. These statements would look fair earlier. But now you understand that the problem of the Syrian Opposition is that external sponsors support it less and less because they are busy with solving their own domestic problems. Turkey is oriented more to solving internal political problems and it's interested in Syria as security buffer along the border in Idlib. Saudi Arabia has been solving problems that are more local for a long time already in both inside the country and on the Arabian Peninsula (in the Persian Gulf, Yemeni crisis). The Syrian Opposition (not only Ahrar al-Sham) has seriously lost external support in recent years. This is why now they have not very firm positions in Syria, much less preferable than the same regime. And the regime has been backed up by its allies in the last years – Iran and Russia. The opposition was losing this support. There may be still some financing but it is becoming more symbolic.
Origins of drones
The Ministry of Defence said that the unmanned vehicles that attacked the Russian base 'could have been received from one of the countries having hi-tech possibilities'. And the State Duma made a hint to tricks of American special services. Could countries of the West have supplied these drones?
Whoever could have supplied them. I'm not very good at defence technologies. In my opinion, a drone is not a very complicated technological device. It's clear the weapon used in Syria to fight wasn't made in Syria. Obviously, it is supplied from outside as well as the weapons the Syrian army uses in fighting. There aren't many countries who made weapons. Our Kalashnikov rifles are spread all over the world. Does it mean Russia's interference will be seen in the place where a Kalashnikov is found? It's stupid. It's not logical to speak about a drone that was made in the States.
Syria doesn't have the 2015 reality now. The situation is calmer, and it's unnecessary luxury to lose people without reason in such a situation
Is anything known about the losses?
Unclear. Kommersant gave one number first, then the Ministry of Defence denied it and stated the newspaper had incompetent sources. We see in photos a couple of planes was destroyed. God knows what's happening to the rest of them. One needs to be at the base and observe or have their own sources in the defence ministry to give such an affirmative response.
Data about the casualties is also different – from 2 to 4 people.
It's not little too. Considering the situation in Syria, these casualties could have been avoided if our own air base was properly secured. Two or four people isn't so much, but it is the victims of the slovenliness and laxity. Syria doesn't have the 2015 reality now. The situation is calmer, and it's an unnecessary luxury to lose people without reason in such a situation.
Early for conclusions
Where did the Ministry of Defence fail to allow such improper slovenliness?
The base should be secured properly. Look what's going on there. Going by the photos, everything is in a semi-destroyed abandoned state, everything became overgrown with bushes. We call ourselves a great power, nuclear country. Did we learn to protect from bombardment in the 21 st century? If we didn't, it is very sad. If something more serious had been used in the attack, the consequences would have been awful.
We call ourselves a great power, nuclear country. Did we learn to protect from bombardment in the 21 st century? If we didn't, it is very sad
As it was reported in the defence ministry, the banned ISIS has already been destroyed in Syria. What other noticeable groups remained in the country?
There are still some remains of ISIS. Tahrir al-Sham remained, ex-al-Nusra (Editor's Note: banned in Russia) will come to an end soon with joint efforts in Big Idlib, I think. Jaysh al-Islam remained, which is a serious structure together with Ahrar al-Sham. Undoubtedly, positions of the Kurds are very powerful. And a huge number of parts that are in the Free Syrian Army, first of all, in Daraa, Quneitra, Ghouta, Idlib and partially in Aleppo Province.
There debates whether Russia won the war or lost. What do we have now?
It's early to make conclusions. It's early to speak about the winners and losers when the conflict hasn't finished. There was already unrest in Iran that hasn't grown into anything yet. Imagine if the old rahbar passes away, God forbid. What will happen then? I don't know. Iran will be busy with solving its own problems and it won't have the time for Syria. It completely changes Russia's positions, the ability of Moscow to affect Assad and make it more compliant. I'd wait to make conclusions.