Russia in Syria Monitor, Aug. 1-8, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Ten Russian servicemen have been killed fighting in Syria so far this year, according to statements from the Russian Defense Ministry. But based on accounts from families and friends of the dead and local officials, Reuters estimates the actual death toll among Russian soldiers and private contractors was at least 40. Russia's Defense Ministry on Aug. 2 denied the Reuters report. (Reuters, 08.02.17, Reuters, 08.02.17)
  • A Russian checkpoint in the Syrian province of Daraa, where a de-escalation area was established in July, daily checks about 1,000 vehicles and 1,500 persons. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • The submarine Krasnodar is ending its voyage from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and will soon arrive at Sevastopol. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • The advanced Russian-made Mil Mi-28UB dual-control helicopter (NATO reporting name: Havoc) is planned to be tested in Syria. (TASS, 08.08.17)
  • Russia will present an exposition at the Army 2017 International Military-Technical Forum to demonstrate its counterterror operation in Syria and weapons seized from terrorists, Defense Ministry official Alexander Mironov said Aug. 8. (TASS, 08.08.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger writes: “How should the West develop relations with Russia, a country that is a vital element of European security, but which, for reasons of history and geography, has a fundamentally different view of what constitutes a mutually satisfactory arrangement in areas adjacent to Russia. Is the wisest course to pressure Russia, and if necessary to punish it, until it accepts Western views of its internal and global order?” (CapX, 08.02.17)
  • James Sladden, Becca Wasser, Ben Connable and Sarah Grand-Clement, policy experts at the RAND Corporation, write: “Russia may not have a clear ends-driven regional strategy [in the Middle East]; it constantly seeks to improve its short-term economic, military and political advantages while reducing the short-term advantages of prospective adversaries. … The Middle East states have the greatest power and agency to determine the viability of any Russian strategy.” (RAND Corporation, August 2017)
  • Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program and the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, write: “In Syria, Russian bombs, arms and boots on the ground turned the tide of the civil war and saved Mr. Putin’s bloodstained ally, [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.” (Wall Street Journal, 08.04.17)

Other important news:

  • The Syrian army stepped up shelling and air strikes on last rebel-held enclaves in the Syrian capital on Aug. 7, its heaviest bombardment in a two-month campaign. From the strategic Qasyoun Heights overlooking Damascus, elite army units pounded the Jobar district. (Reuters, 08.07.17)
  • Russia is anticipating difficulties in ensuring a cease-fire in the last of the four safe zones in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila Aug. 6. (AP, 08.06.17)
  • U.S. senior State Department official: Nearly a third of territory reclaimed from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria since 2014 has been won in the past six months, due to new policies adopted by the Trump administration. (The Washington Post, 08.07.17)
  • After meeting with Tillerson, Lavrov said Aug. 6 his country was ready for more engagement with the U.S. on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other pressing matters, even as Moscow braced for new sanctions from the Trump administration. Lavrov said they also discussed cybersecurity and Tillerson agreed to continue a dialogue between U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. "We felt the readiness of our U.S. colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there's no alternative to that," Lavrov said after the meeting on the sidelines of an international gathering in Manila. (AP, 08.06.17, Reuters, 08.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.07.17)
  • The United States and Russia still have areas of potential cooperation, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters on Aug. 3. "If you look at the ceasefire in southwest Syria, that has now taken hold and, for the most part, succeeded for nearly a month now. That is an example of good U.S.-Russian cooperation," Nauert said. (TASS, 08.03.17)
  • Russia's Defense Ministry and Syria's opposition have agreed to create a new de-escalation zone north of the city of Homs, a ministry spokesman said Aug. 3. However, warring sides exchanged rocket and gunfire north of Homs overnight from Aug. 3 to Aug. 4. Establishment of Syria's new and most difficult de-escalation area in the Idlib governorate is under way, but it won't be easy to reach an agreement, Lavrov said. (Reuters, 08.03.17, Reuters, 08.04.17, Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • The agenda for the next round of intra-Syrian settlement talks in Astana will be determined following consultations in Tehran, while dates remain unchanged, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said Aug. 8. “We are preparing [to hold it] at the end of August," he said. (Interfax, 08.08.17)
  • Lavrov has held talks with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. They discussed Russia-EU relations and relevant issues on the global agenda, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • Saudi Arabia, a main backer of Syrian rebels, said Aug. 6 it still supported an international agreement on the future of Syria, and President Bashar al-Assad should have no role in any transition to bring the war there to an end. (Reuters, 08.06.17)
  • The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused members of the United Nations Security Council of blocking Russia's suggestion to condemn shelling of the Russian embassy in Damascus, saying it encourages terrorist attacks. (Interfax, 08.04.17)
  • Carla Del Ponte, the former prominent war-crimes prosecutor, is quitting a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations in Syria, claiming it “does absolutely nothing.” (RFE/RL, 08.06.17)