Afghan War 2.0 Featuring Syria and... Georgia?
12 December, 2015
In the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, Bashar Assad’s army is planning a land offensive together with its Russian allies. This might seem insignificant at the first glance, but this event may evolve into a new world-scale armed conflict and become a second Afghan War for Russia.

Airstrikes, even precise ones, are not enough to destroy the so-called Islamic State – Russian and American forces have carried out up to 8000 of them and still failed to break the terrorist
organization’s back. Western politicians have been discussing the feasibility of a boots-on-the-ground operation for quite a while now, but neither the U.S. nor the European leaders dare to make such a decisive step so far. Fair enough; nobody wants their army to get mired in a deadly guerilla war. This topic is especially painful to current inhabitants of the White House, who have barely managed to get their army out of Iraq and reduce their presence in Afghanistan tenfold.

Western leaders’ hesitation and indecision played (and still play) straight into the hands of the Kremlin, and two months ago, Putin ordered to begin airstrikes on Syria in an attempt to dictate his way of “doing politics” in the troubled region to the rest of the world. In case he actually decides to complement the airstrikes with a land operation, Russia will entrench itself in Syria and eventually attempt to squeeze both American and European forces out of the region. With Russian support on land, at sea and in the skies, Assad’s army will be able to turn the tables on ISIS and rebels sooner or later, breaking the stalemate it was in since 2011, but how much will it cost Russia? No less than the past involvement in the Afghan conflict, that’s for certain.

In case our readers do not know, Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 was greatly influenced by a piece of CIA disinformation about the U.S. planning to deploy its marines there. In order to outrun them, USSR immediately got involved into a conflict that lasted for ten years, took tens of thousands of lives and, coupled with a drop in oil prices, finally delivered the coup de grace that put the agonizing empire out of its misery.

If Russia gets seriously involved in the war in Syria, the Afghanistan scenario might very well repeat itself, especially considering that prices on oil – Russia’s main source of income – are already in decline.

However, should Russia eventually decide to fully join the military conflict, it will need to transport its soldiers, vehicles, equipment and supplies to Syria. At the moment, Russian wings that fly in Syrian airspace are maintained and resupplied via shipments ferried through Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits, while high-priority cargo is flown in via Caspian Sea-Iran-Iraq-Syria aerial route.

In case of a full-blown conflict on land with Russia’s participation, it will need to find an alternative, less costly route for resupplying its troops in Syria – especially given the worsening of relations with Turkey – which makes usage of a corridor through Transcaucasia all the more likely. Particularly, Russian generals will be interested in rapidly transporting military cargo via rail through Georgia and Armenia to Iranian border and then ferrying them through Iraq to Syria via road trains. This interest must have been the reason why Russian army’s railroad regiments were cleaning up and repairing the rails in occupied Abkhazia not so long ago.

Naturally, making use of Georgia’s railway network, especially for military purposes, requires the Georgian government’s permission, but who knows what kind of military and/or political pressure can Putin resort to in order to open the way to Syria?

P.S. I also do not rule out the U.S. covertly urging and baiting Russia to get sucked into the Syrian bog even deeper, exactly the way it did in 1979. If this actually happens, war expenses will become a heavy burden on Russia, which is already suffering from economic sanctions, and it might actually share its predecessor’s fate.

However, if Kremlin manages to bring the situation in Syria under control as well as restore and strengthen Assad’s government, American and European presence in the region will have to scoot over, since it is highly likely that after Syria and Iran, Iraq will want to join the “Friends of Russia” club as well.