Russia in Syria Monitor, April 18-25, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • A Russian marine major has been killed in combat in Syria, Russian news agencies reported on April 20, confirming an earlier report that one of Moscow's highest-ranking officers there had lost his life. Maj. Sergei Bordov was killed during an attack by militants on a garrison, they said. The death toll among Russian forces in Syria during a period of intense fighting to retake the city of Palmyra stood at 21 as of last week, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, after information emerged about the deaths of three military contractors. The Reuters tally over the period from Jan. 29 until the end of March is more than four times higher than the official toll given by the Russian Defense Ministry of five servicemen killed. Russia’s Defense Ministry has rejected the report by Reuters on the alleged death toll among the Russian military personnel in Palmyra. (Reuters, 04.20.17, TASS, 04.19.17, Reuters, 04.18.17)
  • Russia’s weapons export contracts have been growing largely due to the effective use of military hardware in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting of the military-industrial commission on April 25. (TASS, 04.25.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he is not considering asking Russia to send in ground troops to help the government fight the Islamic State group. (AP, 04.21.17)

Risk of accidental or intentional confrontation between Western and Russian forces in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Russian force posture is still very much focused on contingencies in its near abroad; indeed, despite its campaign in Syria, the Russian armed forces are still in “terrible shape” when it comes to their power projection capabilities, according to Michael Kofman, a research scientist at CNA Corporation. (The National Interest, 04.19.17)

Other important news:

  • The Syrian crisis settlement plan that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brought to Moscow has some new ideas but no radical changes, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Russia regrets U.S. opposition to Russian inspectors taking part in an investigation into a chemical weapons attack in Syria. (AP, 04.21.17)
  • Germany’s foreign minister says a cease-fire in Syria’s civil war can only be achieved with Russia’s help, as it is the only country with “real influence” over the Syrian government, Sigmar Gabriel said during a visit to Jordan on April 24. (AP, 04.24.17)
  • The Trump administration on April 24 imposed financial sanctions on 271 named employees of a Syrian research center it indicated was responsible for developing and producing the sarin gas used to kill dozens of people in the April 4 chemical weapons attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow believes Washington’s new sanctions against Syria are unfounded as there is no proof that Damascus has used chemical weapons in the Idlib province, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on April 25. (The Washington Post, 04.25.17, TASS, 04.25.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on April 21 that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically. Mattis also said April 21 there was “no doubt” that the Syrian government has chemical weapons. (Wall Street Journal, 04.21.17, Reuters, 04.21.17, The Moscow Times, 04.21.17)
  • Turkish warplanes carried out airstrikes on April 25 against suspected Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq and in northeastern Syria, killing at least 18 U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish troops, according to a monitoring group, as well as five members of the Iraqi Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga. (The Washington Post, 04.25.17)
  • The Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria are organized, battled-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country’s northern regions. Thousands of Chinese jihadis have come to Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011. (AP, 04.22.17)
  • Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee says the leader of an Islamic State “sleeper cell” and one of the cell’s members have been killed in a shootout with police in the Stavropol region. (AP, 04.22.17)
  • The man Russian investigators say orchestrated a suicide bombing on the St. Petersburg metro told a court on April 18 that he was an unwitting accomplice in the attack. Russian investigators said that before the April 3 attack, the suspected suicide bomber, Akbarzhon Jalilov, had spoken by telephone with Abror Azimov, who the investigators said was helping mastermind the attack from a Moscow suburb. Russia's Investigative Committee said on April 20 that Jalilov had received money from an "international terrorist group" in Turkey while the Interior Ministry said Jalilov’s Russian citizenship had been annulled. Russian law-enforcers are checking whether an ethnic Uzbek who has become a field commander among Syrian rebels could have ordered the suicide bombing in St. Petersburg. Abu Salakh al-Uzbeki had worked in St. Petersburg as a driver before leaving to fight in Syria, according to an April 21 report in Russia’s However, according to the SITE monitoring group, a little-known group called the Imam Shamil Battalion has claimed responsibility for the bombing and said the bomber was acting on orders from al-Qaeda. Russian authorities say a woman who was injured in the April 3 bombing has died, bringing the toll to 16. (Reuters, 04.20.17, Reuters, 04.18.17, Reuters, 04.20.17, RFE/RL, 04.21.17, Russia Matters, 04.24.17, Reuters, 04.25.17)
  • The United States said on April 21 that it killed an Islamic State operative who was a close associate of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and linked to an attack on a Turkish nightclub that left 39 people dead. Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, who was believed to be from Uzbekistan, was killed during a secret ground operation near Mayadin, Syria, on April 6. (RFE/RL, 04.22.17)
  • Russia’s counterintelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), said April 19 that its agents have killed two men suspected of planning to carry out terror attacks in Russia. The FSB said the suspects, both from Central Asia, were killed in a shootout when they resisted arrest in a home in the Vladimir region east of Moscow. (AP, 04.19.17)
  • Relatives of the Uzbek man that Swedish authorities accuse of ramming a truck into a crowd in Stockholm earlier this month say that his brother has been arrested in Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • Russia will be able to strip naturalized foreigners of their citizenship for becoming involved in terrorism, under legislation submitted by lawmakers. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17)
  • The massive U.S. bomb dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan last week killed militant fighters from Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, India and other countries, an Afghan official said. (RFE/RL, 04.19.17)
  • The United States must confront Russia for providing weapons to the Taliban for use against American-backed forces in Afghanistan, top U.S. military officials said April 24. Gen. John Nicholson, the American commander in Afghanistan, wouldn’t provide specifics about Russia’s role in Afghanistan, but said he would “not refute” that Moscow’s involvement includes giving weapons to the Taliban. Russia denies that it provides any such support to the Taliban. Asked about Russia’s activity in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alluded to the increasing U.S. concerns. “We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said. Washington’s statements alleging that Russia supplied weapons to Afghanistan’s Taliban are aimed at diverting attention from U.S. plans for Syrian regime change, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (AP, 04.24.17, TASS, 04.25.17)