In recent days, beginning September 30, Russian aircraft began launching airstrikes against suspected ISIL positions, reportedly surging to over sixty separate attacks in seventy-two hours. As of this writing, October 7, Russian warships have begun conducting missile strikes against suspected ISIL positions in eastern Syria, launching from the Caspian Sea, a distance of over 1300km/900mi. Meanwhile, Syrian Government forces have launched a major ground offensive, in direct coordination with the Russian assault.
All of this speaks to the reviving capacity of the Russian military -- and its increasing capability at projecting military force globally.
In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, Russia's armed forces imploded. By the terror attacks of 9-11-2001, the Russian military was a polite joke among defense observers around the world: troops were dispirited; equipment was not being upgraded; the Navy was a shell of its former glory.
Fourteen years later, Russia is able to deploy airbase, port operations and security units, as well as special forces and some limited ground combat units into battle in Syria, while maintaining heavy security forces in the Crimea, forces facing Ukraine, standing off with NATO in the Baltic Theater, and conducting naval visits (and surveillance) in the Caribbean and South America as if it was 1983, all over again.
This turn-around is as remarkable, as it is worrying. The current operational tempo of the Russian military signals a distinct shift in focus, as Russia is taking a very aggressive stance in multiple theaters -- but appears to have the talent, muscle and material to make their operations stick.
None of this should really be surprising. Russia has a very long and deep military tradition, albeit one steeped in unnecessary sacrifices caused by incompetent leadership. Russian professional military academies have always had a very solid reputation, at least as good as any Western academy, but again, the fruits of those labors almost always fell on infertile soil, as Russia repeatedly developed solid - even excellent - armed forces, only to see them wasted by incompetent rulers.
Now, however, the Russian military has had the steady and competent hands of Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev at the helm for a combined fifteen years, and its effect is telling. Putin inherited a military dispirited by being fought to a standstill by Chechen rebels in the devastating First Chechen War, of 1994 - 1996, and saddled with the memory of the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which allowed the Russian world perimeter to shrink drastically.
Things began to turn around immediately, as the Second Chechen War commenced soon after Putin assumed his first term in office. Although ultimately taking over nine years to come to a successful conclusion, the initial "battle" phase took only ten months to resolve, ultimately resulting in Russia regaining all of the ground lost in 1996.
South Ossetia (Georgia), in 2008, and the ongoing intervention in the Ukraine which began in 2014, were a series of increasingly competent operations conducted by a military structure clearly evolving in capability and confidence.
All of this bodes ill for a Western military establishment exhausted by fifteen years of continuous war, unstable economies and confused political leadership at home -- there is a very great danger for the West, that we have spent so much time, effort and money gearing to fight low-intensity conflicts, that focus, talent and ability to fight and win large-scale, "main force" combat may have been lost.
Systems, programs and bases developed specifically to fight major wars were largely set aside after the mid-1990's, as the future of war seemed to be in confronting entrenched, religion-driven zealotry. Instead, the West now faces an increasingly capable - and unfriendly - set of military forces, who possess war fighting capabilities that span the globe...
Because, moving quietly, below the radar of most of the world's military observers, China is stirring, refining and perfecting a modern military machine, that is closely watching what everyone else is doing -- and learning from their mistakes...
It is said that there is a Chinese proverb that says, "May you live in interesting times." It is not a compliment.
We live, in interesting times.