Russians Mixed on Obama ISIL Speech

Russian experts worry Obama, ISIL will degrade Russian ally Assad

Fighters from ISIL during a parade in Syria
Fighters from ISIL during a parade in Syria / AP
September 12, 2014

Russian experts disagreed in their reaction to the strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) announced by President Barack Obama on Sept. 10 in a televised address.

Obama said the United States would "degrade and ultimately destroy" the terror organization through airstrikes and support for Syria’s opposition.

As western pundits and policymakers debate whether Obama presented a serious strategy or "half-measures," as Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) described them, the reaction in Russia was mixed.

Russia, a long-time supporter of authoritarian Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, is vulnerable to the radical Islamist threat. Terrorist attacks persist in Russia while the country’s Muslim population grows more radical and many have joined ISIL. Some worried that Obama was simply seeking to undermine Assad.

"Whom will [Obama] bomb in Syria is a question, because there are large doubts about whether he will bomb precisely the fighters, and not Assad’s objects that prevent the rebels from taking Damascus," said Institute for Israel and Middle East president Eugene Satanovskiy.

"The Syrian Free Army de facto ceased to exist long ago. And its most capable brigades went to terrorists, to the Islamists. … Either the U.S. president does not understand what exists in real life, or he's simply lying and paving the way for the terrorists to Damascus," he said. "We know his [Obama’s] sympathies towards the Islamists, know the close financial ties of his circle with the Emirate of Qatar, who is the patron of the Islamic state."

Georgy Mirsky, a historian at Moscow's Institute of World Economy and International Relations, wrote he supports Obama’s speech on his blog published by opposition-leaning Echo Moskvy (Moscow’s Echo). However, he feels many in Russia do not.

"I foresee screams and squeals," he wrote about possible reactions in Russia after Obama’s speech. "We should be glad that America will bomb someone again?"

Mirsky identifies the strong anti-American propaganda as the reason for such a reaction in Russia. "I have no doubt that many people in our country would, in the heart of hearts, prefer Hitler if he was resurrected and began fighting with America," wrote Mirsky. "It cannot be any other way after so many years of monstrous anti-American propaganda."

Mirsky warned supporters of Assad that ISIL posed a much larger threat to the Syrian regime than the United States does.

"Don’t you realize that in the end the day, the deadly threat to your favorite Assad does not come from the Free Syrian Army, not from the moderate pro-Western opposition, but precisely from ISIL?"

Russia continues to struggle with radical Islam domestically.

Examples of terrorist attacks include suicide attacks in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in 2011 and the Moscow Metro in 2010. More recently, in late December 2013, twin bombings shook the city of Volgograd near Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"Americans," writes Mirsky, "will never send suicide bombers to blow up the Moscow metro. And Caliphate—it will send them, make no mistake."