Flight manifests seen by ProPublica indicate that Russia has been shipping tons of money to Assad’s regime. Assad’s government is strapped for cash thanks to sanctions and bans that have been imposed on the minting of Syrian currency. The manifests mention tons of “bank notes” being delivered but do not mention what currency the notes were, nor what else could have been carried on the Ilyushin-76 cargo planes.
The manifests catalogue the cargo of eight round-trips between Damascus and Moscow that took place during escalated violence. The flights were on flight paths different to those of civilian flights. The flights in question passed over Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq, avoiding Turkish airspace.
Despite the intentions of European and American sanctions Assad has found other ways to fund his crackdown on rebel forces.
It looks like Assad is in an increasingly difficult situation. Rebels have recently enjoyed strategic victories, and some governments have recognized the new National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
However, it is not all good news for Assad’s opposition. The Syrian opposition includes jihadists such as the Al-Nusra Front that has rejected the National Coalition. Unlike many of the other groups that make up the National Coalition the Al-Nusra Front aims to create a fundamentalist Islamic state in Syria after Assad loses power. The Syrian opposition also includes Kurdish groups who have different motivations than other groups fighting for the downfall of Assad.
The rebels are not alone in their diversity. Iran has been backing Syria’s military, and the recently uncovered flight manifests are more evidence that Russia has thrown its support behind Assad. The regime is also enjoying support from Hezbollah and Shiite militias.
It is not immediately obvious why a diverse opposition with jihadist elements is preferable to an Iranian and Russian backed regime that welcomes the support of terrorist organizations. However, the international community is seemingly intent on Assad being removed at all costs despite not knowing that what sort of government would take his regime’s place.
President Obama warned before the election that he would back military intervention in Syria if it looked like Assad’s forces were preparing to use chemical or biological weapons. Obama has also spoken out against Assad and called for him to step down. Quite how the Obama administration would deal with Syria without Assad but with a jihadist influence has not been made clear. As cruel and inhumane as Assad’s crackdown has been Obama and the world’s diplomatic community would do well to be more cautious in choosing sides in Syria’s civil war. It's messy enough as it is.