Russia in Syria Monitor, April 25-May 2, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • In an unexpected development, the Russian General Staff announced on April 26 that it has withdrawn almost half of its air grouping originally based at the Hmeimim facility in Syria. Chief of the Main Operational Directorate Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said that the Russian air group never exceeded 35 aircraft between Nov. 10, 2016 and Jan. 10, 2017. He also said that Russia is operating about 80 drones in Syria, and stressed that an analysis has shown that the Russian Aerospace Forces have conducted four times more airstrikes than the U.S.-led coalition despite having fewer aircraft. (National News Agency Lebanon, 04.26.17)
  • Russian military advisers in Syria prepare the Syrian government army operations and provide its commanders with intelligence, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said on April 26. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • The Russian military has used cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers during the operation in Syria to destroy terrorists' critical facilities, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, the chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said on April 26. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • A Russian demining center has trained and equipped about 250 Syrian combat engineers, Lt. Gen. Yuri Stavitsky, chief of the Russian Engineering Troops, told reporters on April 30. (TASS, 04.30.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained on April 26 that a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base in April had posed a threat to Russian troops and was forcing Moscow to take extra measures to protect them. "Washington's action created a threat to the lives of our servicemen who are fighting against terrorism in Syria," said Shoigu. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • The Russian and U.S. forces are maintaining direct working contacts, despite the suspension of the bilateral memorandum on safe flights over Syria, Chief of the Main Operations Department at Russia's General Staff Sergei Rudskoi said on April 26. “We have direct phones lines at the working level. This is done chiefly to ensure the security of Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft operating in Syrian airspace and American aircraft. We hope to be able to settle differences and establish closer interaction in the future," Rudskoi said at a conference in Moscow. Russia could resume direct communication with the U.S. military about operations in Syria as long as both countries "continue the same fight —and not a different one," Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak said April 25. (TASS, 04.26.17, Interfax, 04.26.17, Military Times, 04.25.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a phone conversation on May 2. The Kremlin said the two leaders agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on July 7-8. They also discussed resolving the conflict in Syria and the “explosive” situation on the Korean peninsula, with Putin calling for “restraint” there, according to the Kremlin’s statement. The White House readout confirmed the two leaders discussed North Korea and that they agreed that “all parties must do all they can to end the violence” in Syria. Significantly, Trump has agreed to send a representative to the Syrian cease-fire talks co-sponsored by Russia in the Kazakh capital of Astana on May 3-4, according to the White House statement. The statement also notes that Trump raised the issue of establishing “safe, or de-escalation, zones.” Neither of the two readouts mentioned the conflict in Ukraine. (Russia Matters, 05.02.15)
  • Some 10,000 people with origins in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) countries, “including some 4,000 people with origins in Central Asia,” are fighting on the side of militants in Syria, Valery Semerikov, acting CSTO secretary general, said. He said CSTO has information on efforts by the Islamic State and al-Qaida to unite, and as a result the new terror merger would be able to pose a more dangerous threat. (Interfax, 04.26.17)
  • U.S. armored vehicles are deploying in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters, said a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists on April 26. (AP, 04.26.17)
  • Airstrikes struck a center of Syria’s rescuers known as the White Helmets in a rebel-held area in the country’s center, killing eight volunteers, opposition activists said on April 29. (The Washington Post, 04.29.17)
  • Turkish authorities say they have arrested an Iranian national suspected of smuggling components of a Russian-made antitank missile system from Ukraine in order to deliver them to a terrorist group. (RFE/RL, 04.30.17)
  • Moscow is ready to cooperate with the United States on settling the Syrian crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 29. (Reuters, 04.29.17)
  • Russia condemns the use of chemical weapons by anyone and wants a full and impartial investigation into last month's poison gas attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 2. “Those guilty must be found and punished," Putin told a news conference after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel held in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi. (Reuters, 05.02.17,)
  • French intelligence has concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or members of his inner circle ordered the strike, a declassified report showed. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • Syrian government forces used Soviet-made air-dropped bombs—known as KhAB-250 and KhAB-500—specifically designed to deliver sarin gas in their recent attack on Idlib province, Human Rights Watch has concluded. (The Moscow Times, 05.02.17)
  • As a sign of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s growing influence, especially in the Middle East, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan will visit Sochi on May 3 to discuss Syria with the Russian leader. Erdogan said he would discuss possible operations in Syria's Manbij and Raqqa. (AP, 05.02.17, Reuters, 05.02.17)
  • "The Russian behavior as we've seen, you know—the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine, the support for this murderous regime in Syria and now arming the Taliban—these are all things that's clearly cut against Russian interest, especially in connection with the relationship with Assad in Syria and to arm the Taliban," said U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster.  He said that for relations with Russia to improve, "what we really need to see is a change in behavior." (RFE/RL, 04.30.17)
  • Expanding the number of countries involved in Russian-backed peace talks for Syria could offer a chance to jumpstart negotiations on a political solution, Gernot Erler, Germany's top official for Russia policy said in an interview published May 2. Erler rejected a suggestion by Jordan's King Abdullah that the West should accept Russia's 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine and stop criticizing Moscow to encourage Putin to drop his support for Assad. (Reuters, 05.02.17) 
  • Interfax quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying the armed Syrian opposition would participate in the next round of Russian-backed peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, on May 3-4, which will also involve Iran and Turkey. (Reuters, 05.02.17) 
  • The U.N. special envoy for Syria is heading to Kazakhstan to join talks on the cease-fire in Syria. A U.N. spokesman told reporters May 1 that Staffan de Mistura will be in the capital of Astana as an observer at the talks May 3 and May 4 convened by the three guarantors of the cease-fire—Russia, Turkey and Iran. (AP, 05.01.17)
  • The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been stripped of his leadership powers after he joined Russian State Duma deputies on a trip to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad. (RFE/RL, 04.28.17) 
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir discussed Syria's future with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on April 26 after which he said Saudi Arabia still believed there was no political future for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters, 04.26.17)
  • NATO is considering appointing a senior official to oversee counterterrorism efforts, a move aimed at meeting one of U.S. President Donald Trump's demands that the alliance focus more on terror threats. (Wall Street Journal, 05.01.17)
  • Just in time for the summer tourist season, the U.S. State Department has issued a new travel alert for all of Europe because of the threat of terrorist attacks on the continent. (The Washington Post, 05.02.17)