Russia in Syria Monitor, Jan. 24-31, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Six Russian Tu-22M3 bombers on Jan. 30 carried out airstrikes against new ISIL targets in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province destroying two command posts, arms depots, a large number of military equipment and terrorists, the Russian Defense Ministry said.  In the meantime, Syrian armed forces appeared to have retaken the contested Barada Valley area north of Damascus, the capital's main source of water. (Al Manar, 01.30.17, New York Times, 01.31.17)
  • Experts believe that the next combat zone for the Russian air force in Syria will be the Idlib province, where more than 30,000 militants and their families are sheltering after taking advantage of humanitarian corridors following the fall of Aleppo to Syrian government forces. (RBTH, 01.26.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • The keepers of the Doomsday Clock have moved the symbolic countdown to potential global catastrophe 30 seconds closer to midnight based on U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons and climate change. (AP, 01.27.17)
  • Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned on Jan. 27 that "it all looks as if the world is preparing for war.” (NBC, 01.27.17)
  • According to a survey carried out by state pollster VTsIOM, Russians today most fear international conflict and rising prices. (The Moscow Times, 01.30.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, wrote: “U.S. and Russian interests align most closely on the Islamist terror threat, notably from ISIS. A joint campaign plan to destroy the Islamic State in Syria would be a strong beginning.” (The National Interest, 01.23.17)
  • Jeffrey H. Smith and Kenneth Yalowitz, an attorney specializing in national security and the director of Georgetown University’s Conflict Resolution Program, wrote: “The United States now needs to thoroughly examine its national-security goals and objectives, assess its hard- and soft-power assets and shortcomings, reaffirm its alliances and determine what the major threats are and how to deal with them. With Russia, this means finding the areas where cooperation is possible, such as fighting ISIS and terrorism, nuclear proliferation, arms control and keeping the Arctic as a place for peaceful cooperation. We also need to recognize areas where we disagree and plan on how to manage them.” (The National Interest, 01.26.17)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • In their phone conversation on Jan. 28,  U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged cooperation in fighting Islamic State terrorists. The Kremlin said Putin and Trump spoke in particular about Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s nuclear program, the situation on the Korean peninsula and the Ukraine crisis. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that no decision has been made on sanctions, and “that really wasn’t brought up” in the call with Putin. Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Putin and Trump may meet before this year's G20 summit in July. (The Moscow Times, 01.30.17, AP, 01.28.17, Bloomberg, 01.28.17, New York Times, 01.29.17)
  • The fight against Islamic State is “a top priority” for Moscow and Washington, and Russia is ready to discuss military, diplomatic and intelligence cooperation with the U.S. in combating terrorism “at any time,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. (Bloomberg, 01.30.17)
  • A foreign policy statement posted on the White House website on Jan. 20, shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump was sworn in, says that defeating Islamic State "and other radical Islamic terror groups" will be the highest priority of an "America first" foreign policy centered on "peace through strength." The statement said that the United States will "pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary" to achieve that goal. Trump thinks waterboarding and other interrogation techniques widely seen as torture "absolutely" work, but that he will defer to his CIA and Pentagon chiefs on whether to reinstate them. (RFE/RL, 01.20.17, RFE/RL, 01.26.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump signed three executive actions on Jan. 28, including one directing the Pentagon to draft a plan to destroy the Islamic State. Trump's directive orders his new defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, to submit a strategy within 30 days to defeat the Islamic State. (The Washington Post, 01.28.17)
  • “If Vladimir Putin wants to join with the U.S. to have a serious conversation about how to defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” then “we’re listening,” U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said. (Bloomberg, 01.27.17)
  • The idea of creating safe zones in Syria would require the coordination of the U.N. and other international organizations, Russia’s foreign minister said on Jan. 30. (The Peninsula, 01.31.17)
  • Russia has given Syrian rebels a draft of a new constitution for Syria drawn up by Moscow to speed up political negotiations to end the conflict, Russia's envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, said Jan. 24. RBC managed to obtain a copy of the text, which the newspaper reports contains 27 constitutional amendments. One of the provisions would give Kurds in northern Syria autonomy, as well as language equality. Another proposal provides for a presidential term of seven years, but does not allow consecutive terms. Other proposed constitutional amendments include removing the word "Arab" from the country's official title, leaving only "Syrian Republic." The rebels, however, told AFP they had refused to discuss the draft constitution with Moscow. “We told them that the Syrians are the ones who are entitled to write the constitution,” Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition delegation to the Astana negotiations, said. (AFP, 01.24.17, The Moscow Times, 01.26.17, Bloomberg, 01.25.17)
  • Syrian Kurds presented their own draft of a constitution proposal for a federalized Syrian state during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and representatives of other Syrian opposition groups. (The Moscow Times, 01.27.17)
  • The next round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva has been pushed back to late February, Russia’s foreign minister announced Jan. 27 without explaining what’s behind the postponement. (AP, 01.27.17)
  • Britain's top diplomat, Boris Johnson, says the West may have to rethink its long-standing demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of any peace deal to end Syria's civil war. (RFE/RL, 01.27.17)
  • Russian authorities claim to have “liquidated” more than 140 alleged terrorists working in Russia in 2016. Attacks thwarted by the police included a plot targeting the World Hockey Championship in May, said Igor Kulyagin, head of the government’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC). Kulyagin claimed that 24 of those killed had been identified as high-level officers within their respective terrorist groups, including the “odious leader” of the North Caucus branch of the Islamic State, Vilayat Kavkaz. (The Moscow Times, 01.31.17)
  • Seven Russian nationals have appeared in a Turkish court charged with planning a terror attack in the city of Istanbul. The group stands accused of plotting multiple attacks on behalf of the Islamic State using radio-controlled airplanes. (The Moscow Times, 01.25.17)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will visit Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in March. (Reuters, 01.31.17)