Russia in Syria Monitor, June 20-27, 2017

Please note there will be no Russia in Syria Monitor on July 4 due to the Independence Day holiday.

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • The Russian navy's Mediterranean squadron has been joined by the Vasily Tatishchev reconnaissance ship. (Interfax, 06.26.17)
  • Russia fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea on Islamic State positions in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said June 23. The ministry said two frigates and a submarine launched six cruise missiles on IS installations in Syria’s Hama province, destroying command centers and ammunition depots. (AP, 06.23.17)
  • The Kremlin has denied accusations that military footage used to showcase the Russian air force in Syria was a repurposed U.S. clip from 2013. (The Moscow Times, 06.21.17)

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 Kremlin on June 27 dismissed the White House’s warning that the Syrian government is preparing a new chemical attack and that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his military “will pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead. The Russian Foreign Ministry says Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked June 26 about the need to secure a ceasefire in Syria, fight extremist groups and prevent the use of chemical weapons. It added that Lavrov “urged Washington to take steps to prevent provocations against Syrian government forces battling terrorists.” (AP, 06.27.17, AP, 06.26.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to pursue a "common response" to the Assad regime in Syria in the event of another chemical weapons attack, the French government said June 27 after the two leaders spoke. Macron has earlier said getting rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer top priority in Syria. ''My line is clear: One, a total fight against terrorist groups. They are our enemies … We need the cooperation of everyone to eradicate them, particularly Russia. Two, stability in Syria, because I don't want a failed state.'' (New York Times , 06.22.17, Washington Examiner, 06.27.17)
  • Russian surface-to-air missile batteries are tracking U.S. warplanes in Syria after the Russian Defense Ministry pledged to target U.S. aircraft, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran confirmed to (Daily Call, 06.27.17)
  • Despite earlier declaring that it had stopped using the de-confliction line, Russia told the U.S. beforehand about its massive cruise missile strike from warships in the Mediterranean on June 2. (U.S. News, 06.23.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Denis Dragovic and Richard Iron, an international development expert and a British army veteran, write: “Acknowledging the demographic changes on the ground, recognizing the will of the people to live separately from those they have fought against or suffered under and understanding the geopolitical benefits of smaller states makes the choice clear: Syria needs to be broken up.” (The National Interest, July-August 2017)
  • “Over the past year, Russia has maintained its gains in Ukraine, continued support for the Assad regime in Syria, interfered in U.S. elections, violated landmark disarmament treaties and continued to take unprecedented provocative actions against U.S., NATO-allied and partner ships and planes,” reads a summary of the U.S. House of Representatives’ $696.5 billion defense policy released June 26. “These events all point to the importance of ensuring the U.S. military has the capability needed to protect the country and our interests, and to assure America’s allies and partners.” (The Hill, 06.26.17)


  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger predicted ongoing friction with Russia over Ukraine and Syria. "Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security [and] absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors," Kissinger said during his keynote address at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Security in London, adding that Putin's view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930's European nationalist authoritarianism. "Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously." Kissinger also warned that with political chaos enveloping Britain and the United States, Russia, India and China could gain a foothold in creating a new world order. (AP, 06.27.17)
  • David Gardner, international affairs editor at the Financial Times, writes: “The limited initiatives to somewhat attenuate the Syrian disaster are almost all coming from Russia: a tripartite (and ineffective) ceasefire with Iran and Turkey; the ‘de-escalation zones’ Moscow proposed in May, albeit in the four areas where the Assads still face strong challenges from rebels; even a constitutional blueprint to decentralize power in Syria. The U.S. has come up with next to nothing. The common denominator in these three Russian initiatives may be — some western diplomats involved in Syria suggest—that President Vladimir Putin is groping towards an exit strategy from Syria. If so, nothing Mr. Trump is engaged in looks likely to help him find one.” (Financial Times, 06.21.17)
  • Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center (formerly the GLORIA Center), IDC Herzliya, writes: “The downing of the Su-22 may serve, for a while at least, to demarcate the zones of U.S. and Russian air activity over the skies of Syria. But the real contest is the one on the ground. And here, the prize is the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, the site of a large part of Syria’s oil resources. Does Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning about American air activity west of the Euphrates mean that this area will need to be ceded in its entirety to the regime? Will the United States agree to this?”(Foreign Policy, 06.26.17)

Other important news:

  • Reports that Russia is trying to persuade Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to send troops to Syria have sparked confused and carefully worded denials from those two countries. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev said he has not conducted negotiations on sending peacekeeping troops to Syria during his visit to Moscow. (The Washington Post, 06.23.17, Reuters, 06.24.17)
  • At least 57 people have been killed in a suspected U.S.-led coalition air strike on a prison run by Islamic State in eastern Syria, activists said on June 26. (RFE/RL, 06.27.17)
  • According to Armenian officials, more than 22,000 Syrians have come to Armenia since the start of the conflict in 2011. By 2015, the United Nations refugee agency said Syrian refugees accounted for six of every 1,000 people in Armenia. (New York Times, 06.27.17)
  • Russia’s powerful state security agency said June 26 that terrorists used the encrypted messenger app Telegram to plan a deadly attack on the St. Petersburg metro, a disclosure that buttressed lawmakers’ efforts to curb the anonymous use of encoded chat programs popular among jihadists, opposition activists and government officials alike. (The Washington Post, 06.26.17)
  • Several government websites in the United States, many of them in the state of Ohio, have had to be shut down after being hacked to display a message supporting Islamic State. (RFE/RL, 06.26.17)