Russia Sends Messages With Missile Strike

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If you want to say it loud, say it with a cruise. The missile delivers a message like few others.

And the Russian Kalibr-NK speaks louder than most.

Fired from about 1,000 miles away in the Caspian Sea the Russians insist that their targets were the so-called Islamic State.

Most of the evidence is that they struck locations in western Syria where the death cult is thin on the ground or non-existent.

The real point of using these spectacular weapons was less about hitting IS in Raqqa or other rebel groups in Aleppo and elsewhere.

It was about showing the world not only that Russia has cruise missiles that are as good as the Americans and others – but that they can fly them through the airspace of Iran and Iraq.

The map graphic put out by the Russian Ministry of Defence shows the two flight paths used by the missiles on their journey.

It also, conveniently, shows how Moscow is sewing together a regional alliance that, it hopes, will rival or displace America.

The route first went through Iran. It will soon see an economic boom as sanctions are lifted if it complies with an agreement to freeze and dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

Iraq is also the centre of the 60 nation US-led coalition against IS. But there are signs that Iraq would rather get closer to Iran’s ally Russia and will soon set up a joint intelligence and operations cell to coordinate the tripartite military alliance there.

On the missiles went to Syria. Russia is serious about keeping Bashar al Assad in power. Vladimir Putin likes to work through specific individuals and Mr Assad has always been his man.

Tartous is Russia’s only war sea port and Syria is a major client in terms of weapons exports. It’s also a central interest to Iran.

The Assad regime has been propped up by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Shia “volunteers” brought in by Tehran, and thousands of Shia fighters from neighbouring Lebanon where the Hezbollah has been an Iranian surrogate for more than two decades.

Russia’s cruise missiles carved a crescent of influence from Moscow to the Med.

Alongside surface-to-air missiles they are also intended to drive away Turkish demands for a no-fly zone and humanitarian safe zones as both would mean banning Mr Assad’s forces from the air.

All this makes Putin, celebrating his 63rd birthday with an ice hockey match, look like he’s elbowed the US aside.

Americans in Washington see it differently. To them he’s sliding into the Middle East quick sands much like they did with the invasion of Iraq.

“What about our own history and the disasters that have befallen us does he not get? He’s charging in and the consequences will serve him right,” one senior White House official said.

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