Russia in Syria Monitor, Aug. 22-29, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Another Russian national was reportedly killed during fighting in Syria on Aug. 11; however, the Russian Defense Ministry has said none of its servicemen died that day, prompting speculation that the man in question had been working for a private military contractor. The news of Alexander Yagofarov’s death was first reported Aug. 28 by, a website based in his hometown of Orenburg, where he was buried Aug. 27, a day after his body was brought back from Syria. The site likewise said he had posthumously been given several state awards. Russian news agencies quoted the Defense Ministry as saying that reports of a Russian serviceman dying in Syria on Aug. 11 were false, according to the DW news website. The site’s report noted that a group of open-source investigators called the Conflict Intelligence Team had concluded that Yagofarov may have worked for the private military contractor known as Vagner or Wagner. (Russia Matters, 08.29.17)
  • Over 8,000 fighters have been killed in Syria over the last three months, according to Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin, commander of Russian troops in Syria. “The enemy’s losses in the last three months of military actions have totaled more than 8,000 gunmen, 1,500 units of armaments and military and other hardware,” Surovikin said at a round-table discussion on the Syria experience at the Army-2017 International Military Technical Forum in Russia. (TASS, 08.28.17)
  • Russia`s Aerospace Forces also destroyed four tanks, 16 automobiles and two Islamic State strongholds the near the city of Deir ez-Zor, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Aug. 29. (TASS, 08.29.17)
  • Russian aircraft flew 350 combat sorties in Syria during the week of Aug. 18-25, according to the Russian ministry’s website. (Russia Matters, 08.28.17)
  • Russia`s military has deployed systems to counter and engage unmanned aerial vehicles in Syria, according to Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov, the head of its drone-building and development department. (TASS, 08.28.17)
  • Russia’s two new cruise missile-armed submarines have entered the Mediterranean Sea, amid state media reports they could be used in Moscow’s operation in Syria. The Kolpino and Veliky Novgorod submarines will significantly build up the Russian Navy's squadron in the Mediterranean and may carry out strikes with Kalibr cruise missiles in Syria on Islamic State facilities, the former chief of the Russian Navy's General Staff, Adm. Viktor Kravchenko, told Interfax on Aug. 28. (Interfax, 08.28.17, Newsweek 08.28.17)
  • Russian military experts have established a steadily operating satellite communications network in Syria, said Lt. Gen. Khalil Arslanov, head of the Chief Directorate of Communications of the Russian Armed Forces. (TASS, 08.28.17)
  • Russia has tested over 600 new weapons and pieces of military equipment on the battlefields of Syria, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. (Newsweek , 08.24.17)
  • Lt. Gen. Igor Makushev, chairman of the Russian Armed Forces’ Military Scientific Committee, said that the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile tested during Russia's military operation in Syria has met its precision requirements. (TASS, 08.28.17)
  • The carrier-based Mikoyan MiG-29K/KUB and Sukhoi Su-33 fighter jets performed over 400 sorties from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier during the ship's Mediterranean deployment to the Syrian coast and destroyed about 1,300 Islamic State targets in the process, said Vice Adm. Andrei Volozhinsky, chief of the Russian Naval General Staff. (Interfax, 08.25.17)
  • While Russia has lagged behind the West in drone technology, Moscow is rapidly catching up by leveraging its combat experience in Syria. Thus far, Russian unmanned aerial vehicles have amassed more than 14,000 sorties over that war-torn nation. (National Interest, 08.25.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • U.S. and Russian military officials have been regularly communicating on Syria. Some contacts are helping draw a line separating U.S.- and Russian-backed forces waging parallel campaigns on Syria’s shrinking battlefields. U.S. officials said there now are about 10 to 12 calls a day on the hotline linking the former Cold War foes’ Syria air operations centers, helping keep U.S. and Russian warplanes apart as they support different fighters on the ground. “The Russians have been nothing but professional, cordial and disciplined," Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend said. (Reuters , 08.23.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Daniel R. DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, writes: “Five years later, Aleppo is back in Assad’s control and it is the armed opposition now at its weakest point in the conflict. Whether we like it or not, the UN Security Council’s internal division, Iran’s organization and training of pro-Assad militias and Russia’s bombing campaign have produced a situation where the Assad family clan will be in charge for some time to come.” (National Interest, 08.24.17)
  • Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, writes: U.S. President Donald Trump “believes a better relationship with Russia is in the U.S. interest, and he has resisted the foreign-policy establishment’s reflexive tendency to demonize Vladimir Putin. He’s not wrong here: Russia is not solely responsible for the deterioration of relations (see: NATO expansion), and Russian help would be valuable in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and, over the longer term, with China. Whatever his tangled personal connections with Moscow might be, Trump’s desire for a more constructive relationship with Russia is correct.” (Foreign Policy, 08.28.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. troops in northern Syria came under direct attack last week by Turkish-backed rebels, a military official with the coalition fighting Islamic State told CNN on Aug. 29. The official said that while U.S. troops returned fire there were no casualties on either side. (CNN, 08.29.17)
  • Moscow expects the agreements on Syria's de-escalation areas, including the one around Idlib, to be formalized at the coming Syria talks in Astana, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the press in Kuwait City on Aug. 28. (Interfax, 08.29.17)
  • Russia is determined to help Saudi Arabia in the process of merging Syrian opposition groups, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Abu Dhabi following talks with the United Arab Emirates’ minister of foreign affairs. (TASS, 08.29.17)
  • France and Russia have reached “concrete results” to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Aug. 29. (TASS, 08.29.17)
  • The international contact group on Syria will begin its work during the session of the UN General Assembly in September, French President Emmanuel Macron said at an annual meeting with French ambassadors in Paris. (TASS, 08.29.17)
  • Russia’s foreign minister was in Kuwait on Aug. 28 at the start of a three-nation tour of Gulf Arab states amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis over Qatar. The United Arab Emirates and Russia intend to boost bilateral ties, including military cooperation, said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs, following talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. (TASS, 08.29.17, AP, 08.28.17)
  • "Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is that where the defeated Islamic State group vanishes, Iran is stepping in," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Aug. 23. (Reuters, 08.23.17)
  • There are still particulars to clarify concerning the possible involvement of Armenian sappers in mine-clearing operations in Syria, a spokesman for the Armenian president told Interfax on Aug. 29. An official with the Russian Defense Ministry had told reporters at the Army 2017 forum in Russia that Armenia and Serbia were ready to join the mine-clearing coalition. (Interfax, 08.29.17)
  • Iraqi forces raised the national flag on Aug. 26 in the heart of Tal Afar, Islamic State’s stronghold in the country’s northwest, and were poised to take full control of the city after a week-long offensive. (Reuters, 08.28.17)
  • While international attention has been focused on Islamic State’s territorial losses to the U.S.-backed international coalition, IS has been waging another, silent campaign: to make as much money as it can, as fast as it can, and get that money out of its collapsing, self-proclaimed caliphate. (Financial Times , 08.24.17)
  • Russian authorities say three law enforcement officers were killed in two separate incidents in the southern Dagestan region on Aug. 28, including an attack claimed by Islamic State’s propaganda agency. Video footage from the scene showed a black jihadist banner said to have been found on the attackers, and IS claimed responsibility, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity. (RFE/RL, 08.28.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.28.17)