Russia in Syria Monitor, Aug. 8-15, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Syrian government troops backed by Russian forces have recaptured huge swathes of territory from opposition forces in the previous two months. The Syrian army and its allies advanced in the central Syrian desert on Aug. 14 and could soon encircle an Islamic State pocket. They have also taken a number of villages around the town of al-Koum in the northeastern Homs province. (Reuters, 08.14.17, RFE/RL, 08.13.17)
  • Syrian government forces have for the first time captured a settlement from the Islamic State as a result of an air landing operation. Russian military advisers participated in the preparation and control of the landing operations at the El-Kder settlement. (TASS, 08.15.17)

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 Armed Forces' General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov discussed the situation in Iraq and Syria and a de-escalation area in southwestern Syria with Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford on Aug. 8. (Interfax, 08.09.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Harvard Kennedy School professor Graham Allison writes: “Just as in the Cold War, Americans and Russians today share a vital national interest in averting a nuclear war. … President Trump has an opportunity to make Americans safer by … regrounding relations with Russia on the foundation of Cold War fundamentals." (The National Interest, September-October 2017 )
  • Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates, Inc., writes: “A better option would be to engage with Moscow pragmatically and focus on managing the geopolitical rivalry to reduce to a minimum the risk of a full-blown conflict. Washington and Moscow must recognize that the mounting global disorder necessitates a more balanced relationship that, without glossing over historical disagreements, would advance the interests of both.” (Politco, 08.12.17)
  • Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, writes: “The West's best option, the only one that has a chance of forcing Mr. Putin to abandon his zero-sum game of revenge and restoration, is to engineer for him unambiguous setbacks and reversals—in Ukraine, Syria and wherever else he chooses to go next.” (Wall Street Journal, 08.09.17)


  • Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Russia’s principal foreign policy priorities, as evidenced by its actions in Ukraine and Syria, are checking any further advance of NATO in Eastern Europe and confirming Russia’s status as a great power outside the post-Soviet space.”  (Carnegie Moscow Center, 08.10.17)
  • Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, writes: “Russia cannot disregard how China and Iran might react if they perceive Russia as accommodating the United States on North Korea, Syria or other issues—especially if Moscow’s flexibility compromises their interests.” (The National Interest, September-October 2017)

Other important news:

  • A meeting on Syria will take place in Astana in early September. The parties will try finalizing agreement on the de-escalation area near Idlib, which is presenting negotiating difficulties related to disagreements between Turkey and Iran “on the ground.” (Interfax, 08.14.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani have discussed issues related to bilateral cooperation during a telephone call. According to the Kremlin press service, "while exchanging views on various aspects of the situation in Syria, the parties confirmed their willingness to continue [to] coordinate joint efforts aimed at resolving the crisis." (TASS, 08.14.17)
  • Russian and U.S. diplomats and militaries continue professional pragmatic contacts on Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (Interfax, 08.14.17)
  • A special commission in Dagestan will be working to repatriate children who were taken to Iraq and Syria by parents influenced by terrorist organizations, Dagestan leader Ramazan Abdulatipov said. (Interfax, 08.11.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service said on Aug. 14 it has thwarted suicide bombings in Moscow planned by the Islamic State. Four people have been arrested on suspicion of plotting attacks on Moscow’s transit system and shopping malls. The arrested included two would-be suicide bombers, an Islamic State envoy and an expert in explosives. One is a Russian national and three others are from ex-Soviet Central Asia. (AP, 08.14.17)
  • Turkish law enforcement detained a Russian citizen suspected of planning to down American military aircraft using a drone, Turkish media reports. The man, identified as Renat Bakiyev, was detained in the city of Adana. (The Moscow Times, 08.10.17)
  • A U.S. federal appeals court scheduled new arguments for December regarding the conviction of Irek Hamidullin, a former Russian military officer sentenced to life in prison for leading a Taliban attack on U.S. forces. Hamidullin says he should be treated as a prisoner of war and shielded from prosecution. (AP, 08.10.17)
  • The Far Eastern District Military Court has sentenced a resident of Khabarovsk to five years in jail for assisting terrorist activity. (TASS­, 08.13.17)
  • Russian authorities say Khadzhimurad Gadzhiyev, the leader of an armed criminal group known as the Khunzakh gang, has been killed in Dagestan during a security operation in the western village of Orota on Aug. 13. (RFE/RL, 08.14.17)
  • In recent months, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has become an icon for America’s far right, whose leaders and spokesman have heaped praise on the ferocity with which Assad has prosecuted the war, his role in fighting the Islamic State and his perceived stance against Muslims and Jews. (The Washington Post, 08.14.17)
  • Powerful Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar has met with Russia's foreign and defense ministers in Moscow. Russia backs the efforts by Haftar and the prime minister of Libya's U.N.-recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj, to reach a peace agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Libyan strongman in remarks released by the Foreign Ministry after the two men met Aug. 14. (RFE/RL, 08.14.17)