Western media is in a frenzy over alleged ties between the Russians and ISIS involving Syria’s largest gas facility, Tuweinan. Tuweinan gas facility was built and is maintained by Russian engineers in Raqaa – territory that is currently under ISIS command. The fact that ISIS now controls the gas facility, while Russian engineers work to maintain its machines, shows the ever complicated situation in the battle to fight terror finance. Russia has justified its presence in Syria as necessary to combat the terrorist groups that threaten the region and, indeed, the world. However, this new link is part of the growing amount of evidence used to support the now-common belief that Russia’s presence in Syria has little to nothing to do with ISIS, and everything to do with helping to support the Assad regime. How else can we explain the fact that Russians work inside a factory that helps to fund ISIS activity throughout Syria? But to what extent do Russia’s plans to help Assad play right into the hands of ISIS? How much does ISIS actually benefit from Russian presence in Syria?
According to a recent article in Al Arabiya, Russia’s presence in Syria helps ISIS in several ways. First of all, Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of schools and hospitals become a recruiting tool for ISIS. Newsweek estimated that, last month, Russian air strikes were responsible for the deaths of 679 civilians: 94 of them were children and 73 were women. ISIS, on the other hand, was responsible for the deaths of 98 civilians. Syrian citizens, witnessing the mass execution of their family members at the hands of foreign aggressors, could be more likely to enter into the war on the side of ISIS in an effort to kick the Russians out. Secondly, Russia is helping ISIS by destroying those armed rebels who are simultaneously anti-Assad and anti-ISIS: fighters like Jabha Shamiya, Faylak Sham, Soukour Jabal, Nour Deen and the more dangerous, Zanki Ahrar Al-Sham and Jabhat Nusra. By ridding Syria of these militant fighters, all of whom battle ISIS on a regular basis, Russia only helps ISIS grow stronger.
Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, is that fact that Russian presence in Syria is helping to fan sectarian fires. Russia’s support for the Kurdish YPG, for example, designated as a terrorist group by the Turkish government, recently led to oral commitments by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Gulf nations to enter Syria, under a suspect desire to “combat ISIS.” The incorporation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey into the war in Syria would shift focus even farther away from ISIS: a Syrian Army commander, speaking to CNN, claimed that the only thing that threatened the Syrian Army from recovering Raqaa from ISIS by the end of the year would by the entry of Saudi and Turkey. This of course confirms our suspicions that a Saudi coalition in Syria would target Assad’s forces, thus continuing to benefit ISIS. For if Sunni Saudis battle Shia Iranians and Alawites in Syria, ISIS will only continue to grow stronger. Russia desperately needs to get out of Syria before Saudi and Turkey go in.