by David Blair
"Once the expedition began, the Kremlin set out its aims. The first goal was supposedly to fight the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). As Russian planes flew their first missions on Sept 30, Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin chief of staff, said the aim was “exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against Isil”.
From the beginning, however, most Russian air strikes were targeted against just about every rebel group except Isil. Assad has never fought Isil as a priority – and nor have his Russian allies. The latest study of Syria’s war by IHS, a consultancy, finds one anomaly: the only areas where Isil gained ground in 2015 were also the regions where Russian warplanes hammered the other rebels. Put simply, Russia obligingly bombed Isil’s enemies among the other armed factions, particularly around Aleppo, and the terrorists took the opportunity to advance. In some areas, the net result of Russia’s campaign was actually to help Isil."