Russia's bid to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is going to cause them pain "in ways they can't imagine," the senior U.S. diplomat charged with organizing the war against the Islamic State told a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Retired Marine Gen. John R. Allen, making his final appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, said Russia has miscalculated in its move to support Assad against homegrown resistance fighters.
"The Russians are going to start feeling some serious pain on this," Allen said. "The [Assad] regime forces aren't doing that well under Russian close air support. They are underperforming, and I think the Russians are definitely dismayed by the performance of the regime forces under both Russian artillery support and aviation support."
Allen said the Russian air and artillery strikes against Assad's opposition forces have actually caused various rival factions to start working together.
"Russia is going to suffer from this incursion in ways they can't imagine are going to happen," Allen predicted.
Other consequences of the incursion, he said, will be a new wave of refugees flooding into other countries and a renewed call by Islamic extremists for global jihad.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, pressed Allen on recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that suggested Russia could play a positive role in resolving the Syrian crisis, including the elimination of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
"The facts on the ground are that Russia is killing our friends," Corker said. "You don't see them moving away from killing our friends to focusing like we are on ISIS?"
Allen said he does not see Russia focusing exclusively on ISIS because that's not who Russian forces were sent there to fight. But as events unfold and Russia finds it cannot win militarily it may very well want to join the U.S. in finding a political solution.
"Russia … is there to stabilize Assad, and -- if you will -- the wolf closest to the door for Assad [are Syrian rebel groups]," he said. "Those are the ones who are the greatest threat."
"At this juncture we haven't seen and we won't … see a large-scale Russian investment in going after [ISIS]," Allen said. "Because it's got to do what it came there to do: prevent the collapse of the Assad regime."
That does not mean Russia will not change its mission, he said.
As Russia realizes it cannot win a military victory in Syria, it may want to join with the U.S. in reaching a political settlement, Allen said, and Kerry is laying the groundwork for that.
For now, he said, ISIS "is somewhat down the pike for them."