Russia in Syria Monitor, Jan. 3-10, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russia's naval battlegroup in the Mediterranean Sea is preparing to head home after completing its mission in Syria. Armed Forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov announced on Jan. 6 that the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier’s departure will be followed by the missile cruiser Peter the Great and the rest of the naval battlegroup. The force reduction follows an order given by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 29. (AP, 01.06.16, The Moscow Times, 01.06.17)
  • Russian naval aviation pilots have performed 420 sorties and destroyed 1,252 terrorist facilities over the two months that the aircraft carrier naval group has participated in the Syrian operation, according to Commander of Russia’s Group of Forces in Syria Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov on Jan. 6. (TASS , 01.06.17)
  • Russian warplanes have carried out airstrikes to support Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria against the Islamic State. The air missions took place for about a week near the strategically important town of Al Bab. According to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, however, Russians have given “virtually zero” support to the United States in fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. (New York Times, 01.08.17, AP, 01.08.17)
  • An Israeli satellite firm claims to have confirmed Russian deployment of Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles to the Russian base in Latakia, Syria. (The National Interest, 01.07.17)
  • Russia’s Northern Fleet will continue its voyages in 2017, including missions in the Mediterranean Sea, the Fleet’s press office reported on Jan. 9. (TASS, 01.09.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • "Russia’s unprecedented cyber intrusions and its military intervention in Syria have also posed significant challenges to both our bilateral relationship and to international stability, and it is critical that we remain vigilant against these and other threats, even as we look for areas where it is in our interest to cooperate with Russia," said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in his Cabinet Exit Memo, published on Jan. 5. (TASS , 01.05.17)
  • Moscow is pushing back against harsh criticism by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan, who told PBS in an interview Jan. 3 that Russia has pursued a “scorched-earth policy” in Syria, leading to “devastation and thousands upon thousands of innocent deaths.” Igor Konashenkov, the spokesperson for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said on Jan. 4 that the U.S.-led international military coalition has “methodically destroyed Syria’s infrastructure in order to maximize the weakening of the country’s legitimate government, despite the threat to the civilian population.” (The Moscow Times, 01.04.17)

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

  • The U.S. and Russian militaries have a year-old air safety agreement, but American pilots still find themselves having close calls with Russian aviators either unaware of the rules of the road, or unable or unwilling to follow them consistently in the skies over Syria. On any given day, there are usually 50 to 75 manned and unmanned coalition aircraft over the Syrian city of Raqqa. At times, Russian planes plow through tightly controlled groupings of allied aircraft over Raqqa. (Wall Street Journal, 01.09.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • “The Russian-Turkish rapprochement is largely tactical,” said James F. Jeffrey, a former United States ambassador to Turkey. “Russia can live for now with a Turkish enclave in northern Syria if it does not threaten the Assad regime. And it allows Russia to exploit the U.S. shift to Turkey’s rival, the Y.P.G., by providing air support to the Turks against the Islamic State, which the U.S. inexplicably is not providing.” (New York Times, 01.08.17)

Other important news:

  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his government is ready to negotiate on "everything" if proposed peace talks with the Syrian opposition go ahead. (RFE/RL, 01.09.17)
  • The United States is encouraging Syria peace talks being prepared by Russia for later in January in the Kazakh capital Astana and hopes they will be a step toward peace, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Jan. 5. (Reuters , 01.06.17)
  • The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency claims that the so-called caliphate carried out at least 1,141 “martyrdom operations” (suicide attacks) in Iraq, Syria and Libya in 2016. The overwhelming majority of these, 1,112 in all, were launched in Iraq and Syria. (Long War Journal, 01.03.17)
  • Russian student Ruslan Saifutdinov, convicted of fighting for Islamic State in Syria, has died in prison just days before he was due to be released. (The Moscow Times, 01.09.17)
  • Russian military serviceman Marat Akhmetshin was killed in Syria in August 2006, Russia’s Kommersant daily reported on Jan. 10. Captain Akhmetshin—who had served in an artillery unit—was posthumously awarded the Hero of Russia medal. (Belfer Center, 01.10.17)

Useful charts:

RFE/RL infographic on airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.