Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has said that the U.S.-led air strikes in Syria are “not an effective way of dealing with the [Islamic State group],” while claiming that Russia is taking “proactive steps” to counter the militants through the United Nations.
In a February 2 interview with pro-Kremlin outlet RT, a transcript of which was published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, Gatilov was asked whether the air strikes conducted by the United States and its allies were an “effective method” of dealing with IS or whether they “just exacerbated the situation.”
Gatilov claimed in his response that the air strikes had not had any effect.
“Unfortunately, in recent months, this activity has not provided any results despite the fact that, at the last count, there has been around 1.7 thousand air strikes against Islamic State targets. Admittedly, this is not really an effective way of dealing with the IS group,” Gatilov said.
According to Gatilov, IS militants are “adapting sufficiently well, changing positions, and dispersing, which allows them to survive.”
Gatilov also said that the air strikes had cost “over a billion dollars.”
Are The Air Strikes Effective?
Gatilov did not refer at all to the recent dramatic developments in the Syrian town of Kobani, in which Kurdish militias backed by U.S.-led air strikes had ousted IS militants from the town.
Pentagon officials said in January that the air strikes have hampered IS’s ability to raise money and have also put the militants on the defensive.
The strikes, which began in August, have destroyed “hundreds of Islamic State tanks, checkpoints, convoys and oil refineries,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
IS militants who fought in Kobani have also admitted that the air strikes posed a problem. Social media posts by Chechen militants who fought in Kobani suggest that IS had to change its tactics in order to avoid the U.S.-led air strikes. The picture obtained from remarks by Chechen militants backs up comments made by Canada’s Iraq commander, Colonel Daniel Constable, who said in November that the U.S.-led air strikes were causing IS to adopt a defensive strategy.
While Constable admitted that the air strikes had caused the militants in Iraq to conceal targets to make it harder for Western aircraft to locate and strike them, he said this was a positive sign that meant Iraqi forces could adopt an offensive approach to fighting IS.
Gatilov: ‘Work With Syria To Fight IS’
In criticizing the U.S.-led coalition’s effectiveness, Gatilov made two other points that are straight out of Moscow’s diplomatic playbook on the Syria conflict — a strategy that has been adopted by Russia’s allies in Damascus and Tehran.
The first point, which Russian officials have repeated as a leitmotif in every interview or speech on the Syria conflict and the issue of the Islamic State group, is that the U.S.-led air strikes in Syria are unlawful because Washington did not request permission from Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In his RT interview, Gatilov links this theme with his second point, that of Damascus’s role in the fight against IS (and against “terrorism” in general, a term used by Moscow in the context of Syria to refer to all the armed opposition).
“When it comes to Iraq, there the coalition is working with the government, but in Syria there is no such interaction. And we think there is a big flaw here. After all, the Syrian authorities have expressed their willingness to do so, and if the Americans agreed, the degree of effectiveness in the fight against terrorism would be much greater,” Gatilov said.
Gatilov’s comment that the Syrian authorities would be willing to work with the United States to “fight terror” comes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a similar overture in a January 26 interview with U.S. foreign-policy magazine Foreign Affairs.
Assad — who essentially made the same points about the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition as Gatilov — said that he would like to see the United States “make legal cooperation with Syria and start by asking permission from our government to make such attacks.”
The Syrian president also insisted that the Syrian Arab Army was fighting effectively on the ground against IS, a theme that has had a constantpresence in Syrian state media, which publish daily reports of loyalist troops’ gains against “terrorists,” including IS militants.
While the ostensible reason for the push by Moscow and Damascus for cooperation is greater effectiveness against the shared foe of IS, such a development would have another, far more important effect for Assad and his allies. Any “legal cooperation” with Assad against IS would in effect mean that the United States and its allies would be granting the Assad government legitimacy.
Gatilov hinted at this in his comments to RT, in which he said that the United States would not cooperate with Assad “because of their political attitudes.”
“They do not go for it, because they believe that the Assad government is illegitimate. That is unfortunate because such cooperation against the Islamic State group would bring better results,” Gatilov said.
As well as criticizing the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, Gatilov also said that Russia was playing an active role in combating the militant group via the United Nations and in particular via the UN Security Council.
The deputy foreign minister said that Moscow had taken the “proactive step” of submitting a draft resolution to the UN Security Council regarding introducing a ban on all activities relating to the smuggling of oil from IS-held territory. Gatilov noted that IS is funding its activities in part through the sale of contraband oil.
“We hope that [the draft resolution] will be another important step by the international community aimed at stopping the activities of the Islamic State [group],” Gatilov said.