Syria’s internet troubles may signal an active effort by Russia to cut internet traffic before a major military offensive on the city of Aleppo.
Russia’s hand in the internet blackouts may stem from the presence of one of its ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The ship, the Yantar, is well known to the U.S. intelligence community for its ability to cut internet traffic.
When the Yantar cruised along the U.S. East Coast on its way to Cuba in September 2015, it was closely watched by U.S. intelligence satellites. Navy officials told The New York Times the Yantar is capable of deploying submersible seacraft that can cut internet cables running into the U.S.
“This is yet another example of a highly assertive and aggressive regime seemingly reaching backwards for the tools of the Cold War, albeit with a high degree of technical improvement,” retired Admiral James Stavridis told The Times in October 2015.
Syrian President Bashar Assad historically has disrupted Syria’s internet traffic in the days before a major military offensive. Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies have focused the majority of their air power and ground forces on rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
Iran reportedly sent thousands of fighters to shore up Assad’s forces in early October for the approaching assault on Aleppo. Iran has sent so many fighters it may even outnumber the actual Syrian Arab Army under control of Assad, U.S. security advisory firm The Soufan Group noted October 4.
Aleppo has become a last stand for the mainstream Syrian opposition, which derives legitimacy from its control, and will lose its biggest bargaining chip if it is driven out. Russia is abandoning all pretenses and is reportedly using bunker busting bombs on civilian populations, wiping out hospitals, and killing civilians.
Syria’s rebels and humanitarian activists rely heavily on internet access to disseminate images and messages to the western world. If Assad and Russia are able to cut off internet access, reports of the effect on their all out assault could be delayed.
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