The Rendon Group
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Russian Airstrikes in Syria:
A New Phase in the Local War and East-West Geopolitical Maneuverings
The Buildup of Russian Airbridge to Syria: Flightradar24, an online flight tracker, shows an Ilyushin Il-62M (NATO reporting name: Classic) headed for the Syrian coast after using a route via Belarus – Poland – Serbia to avoid closed airspaces 10 September 2015
This week’s snapshot focuses on Moscow’s inaugural airstrikes in Syria. The entry of Russian airpower began after Syria monitors observed an influx of Russian personnel and a buildup of the regime’s coastal strongholds in the past month. Governments of the western-led coalition against the Islamic State are concerned Russia’s airstrikes are part of a campaign to degrade all opposition to al-Assad, including Western-backed factions. Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict is the Kremlin’s first major military engagement outside the former Soviet Union since the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979.
News summary of events during the week of 28SEP 15 – 05OCT15
- 28SEP: Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi welcomed Russia’s “recent interest” in defeating ISIS and urged intelligence-sharing with Moscow as a means to that end. (AP)
- 28SEP: In a sideline meeting at the U.N, Presidents Obama and Putin agreed to hold joint military talks to avoid unintended clashes as both the U.S. and Russia wage military campaigns in Syria. (RFE/RL)
- 29SEP: Putin said Russia was considering conducting airstrikes against ISIS, but ruled out the possibility of Russian troops taking part in ground operations. (GUARDIAN)
- 30SEP: Russian warplanes struck in two Syrian provinces alongside regime aircraft and provided targeting guidance for regime aircraft in a third, a Syrian security source said.
- 30SEP: Western governments stressed concern that Russian sorties were targeting Syrian rebels other than Islamic State militants, including at least one group trained by the CIA. (NYT)
- 01OCT: US Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Carter denounced Russia’s first round of airstrikes, pointing out that Russian pilots did not hit known strongholds of the group. (NYT)
- 02OCT: Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem praised Russia’s recent military intervention, saying it was requested by Moscow and was being coordinated with the government in Damascus. (WSJ)
- 02OCT: President Obama excoriated President Putin for his military approach in Syria, saying he was pursuing “a recipe for disaster” that would result in a quagmire of sectarian violence, while also rejecting calls for deeper US intervention in the conflict. (WSJ)
- 03OCT: UK PM Cameron accused Russia of indiscriminately targeting members of the opposition fighting the regime of President al-Assad as well as Islamic State militants. (WSJ)
- 04OCT: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned the success of Russia’s military intervention in his country was vital for the entire Middle East, as Moscow ramped up its bombing campaign. (AFP)
- 05OCT: More than 40 Syrian insurgent groups, including Ahrar al-Sham, called on regional states to forge an alliance against Russia and Iran in Syria. (Reuters)
- 05OCT: Russian military jets carried out strikes on nine Islamic State sites in Syria over the past 24 hours, the defense ministry in Moscow reported. (AFP)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the Russian Federation’s military operations in Syria
- @juliaioffe – Julia Ioffe, columnist at Foreign Policy
- @Millermena – James Miller, Russia, Syria, and MENA analyst and Managing Editor of The Interpreter
- @zaidbenjamin – Zaid Benjamin, Radio Sawa Washington Correspondent
- @MaksCzuperski -Maks Czuperski, Special Assistant to the President and CEO of the Atlantic Council
- @WSJSolomon – Jay Solomon, foreign affairs correspondent at the Wall Street Journal
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the Russian Federation’s military operations in Syria
Anthony H. Cordesman, Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy, the Center for Strategic and International Studies
“What [Russian military involvement in Syria] already has shown…is that Putin can and will exploit the use of military forces as political weapons in hybrid or asymmetric political warfare.”
- Russia in Syria: Hybrid Political Warfare, CSIS, 23SEPT15
Vali Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University
“Regardless of how much complaining we do about Russian intervention, or how skeptical we are that they can actually succeed, the fact of the matter is that they have taken over the facts on the ground. They have been much more aggressive in talking to everybody and everybody has been willing to talk to them, whereas in the case of the US, we have been talking about doing diplomacy but our diplomacy is not actually in practice.”
- Russian airstrikes in Syria leave US scrambling for response, CNN, 30SEPT15
Jeffrey Mankoff, Fellow and Deputy Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program, the Center for Strategic and International Studies
“Russia’s always had the challenge of not having great maritime access, just as a result of its geography, and so to the extent that it wants to be an active player in [the Mediterranean] … it has to have some ability to operate outside of its own coastal waters.”
- The Link Between Putin’s Military Campaigns in Syria and Ukraine, The Atlantic, 2OCT15
Ruslan Pukhov, defense expert and director of the Center for Analysis of Strategic Technologies in Moscow
“[Russia] is basically novices in this type of war. And when you are a novice, you are doomed to commit some kinds of mistakes. Hopefully not deadly ones, but obviously there is a risk of casualties.”
- Russia’s military is unlikely to turn the tide of Syria’s war, WP, 03OCT15
Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
“The Russian intervention is a massive setback for those states backing the opposition, particularly within the region – Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – and is likely to elicit a strong response in terms of a counter-escalation.”
- Gulf states plan military response as Putin raises the stakes in Syria, The Guardian, 03OCT15
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the Russian Federation’s military operations in Syria
1. Putin does not rule out Russian strikes in Syria
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 28 September 2015
United Nations, United States, Sept 28, 2015 (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia had not ruled out air strikes in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces in their battle against jihadist rebels.
2. U.S., Russia to Begin Talks On Military Activity In Syria
Media: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Date: 29 September 2015
The U.S. and Russian militaries will hold talks on their activities against the Islamic State group in Syria, the Pentagon announced September 29.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has directed his staff to “open lines of communication with Russia,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
3. UPDATE: Russia ‘carries out Syria strikes’
Date: 30 September 2015
Russia appears to have begun carrying out airstrikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, US officials say.
4. Syrian insurgent groups vow to attack Russian forces
Media: Associated Press
Date: 05 October 2015
BEIRUT (AP) — More than 40 Syrian insurgent groups vowed to attack Russian forces in retaliation for Moscow’s air campaign in a show of unity among the usually fragmented rebels against what they called the “occupiers” of Syria.
The 41 groups, which included powerful factions such as Ahrar al-Sham, Islam Army and the Levant Front, said Russia joined the war in Syria after President Bashar Assad’s forces were on the verge “of a crushing defeat.”
5. UPDATE: Syrian rebel groups call for alliance against Russian military intervention
Media: Xinhua (China)
Date: 05 October 2015
DAMASCUS, Oct. 5 (Xinhua) — Several Syrian rebel groups called on regional countries to form an alliance against the Russian-led coalition pummeling them, according to a statement released Monday.
In the statement, over 41 rebel groups, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham Movement, deemed the Russian military intervention in Syria as an “occupation,” and urged regional countries to form a coalition in order to face the Russian-led coalition which also includes Iran, Iraq and Syria.