The Russia Calculus in Syria

The introduction of Russian military forces and equipment into the Syrian civil war will make the conflict “far more complicated,” but the long-term impact on the fighting is very unclear, the former head of Air Forces Central Command said at ASC15 on Sept. 16. Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff and former AFCENT commander from July 2013 to June 2015, said any operational commander would be concerned about “misinterpretation” in an environment where coalition aircraft are already flying anti-ISIS sorties over Syria. “But those guys aren’t interested in being in the air against the United States there,” Hesterman said, adding these forces are reinforcing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and making sure the US and its domestic enemies “don’t get too close.” Hesterman added that anyone who has had to pay close attention to Syria will eventually conclude that the fighting will only end through a negotiated settlement, and with Russia’s entry into the fighting it likely gives Moscow a seat “when negotiations start.” The impact on the military balance, however, remains unclear. “I don’t know if it makes it worse or better,” he added.