Russia in Syria Monitor, June 6-13, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • The Russian navy is beefing up its Mediterranean presence. Recently, it announced its intent to increase the contingent from 10 to 15 ships. (Russian Defense Policy, 06.12.17)
  • Maps of the de-escalation areas and security zones in Syria are ready, the approval process is nearly complete, Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said on June 9. (Interfax, 06.09.17)
  • Retired Russian Col. Andrei Troshev was hospitalized in St. Petersburg after becoming dangerously intoxicated. In his possession were 5 million rubles in cash, 5 thousand dollars in cash and maps of Syria. Troshev is said to be a "close associate" of Dmitri Utkin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group fighting in Syria. (The Moscow Times, 06.07.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Officials from the United States and Russia are quietly holding talks on creating a "de-escalation" zone in Syria, Western diplomats and regional officials say. The U.S. and Russian special envoys to Syria, Michael Ratney and Aleksandr Lavrentiev, and other officials have met at least twice in the past two weeks and will meet again. (RFE/RL, 06.10.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Tatyana Stanovaya, director of the analytical department of Moscow’s Center of Political Technologies, wrote: “Paris has reportedly invited Moscow to set up a working group and take practical measures to establish cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Russia has not had such a platform on Syria with France or Germany; its key Western partner was the United States. Now it appears that Macron is trying to seize that baton from Washington.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 06.06.17)
  • Bloomberg Views columnist Leonid Bershidsky wrote: “Upon closer examination, sanctions have been a questionable deterrent: Putin has held on to Crimea, continued backing Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine and waded into battle in Syria on behalf of President Bashar Assad. Putin's regime is far from teetering, and it's not internationally isolated, either.” (Bloomberg, 06.12.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. Senate leaders said they had reached an agreement late on June 12 to approve new sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential election and for the country's conduct in Ukraine and Syria. In a statement released late June 12, the top Republican and Democratic senators on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs said the agreement would impose new sanctions and ''provide for a mandated congressional review'' if the White House sought to ease penalties unilaterally. The new sanctions would be imposed upon ''corrupt Russian actors,'' people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and people conducting ''malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government,'' among others. The measure would also cement existing sanctions, including some affecting Russian energy projects that were enacted as part of executive orders, the senators said. (New York Times, 06.13.17)
  • U.S.-backed Syrian militias advanced deeper into the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa from the east on June 12, reaching the walls of the Old City, a war monitor and a militia spokesman said June 12. (AP, 06.12.17)
  • U.S. aircraft shot down an Iranian-made drone that fired on coalition forces patrolling with partner forces in southern Syria, a coalition spokesman told reporters on June 8. This is the first time that pro-Syrian regime forces—which the U.S. says includes Iranian-backed Shia militias—have fired on the U.S.-led coalition. The incident occurred after the military alliance fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad threatened on June 7 to hit U.S. positions in Syria, warning its "self-restraint" over U.S. air strikes would end if Washington crossed "red lines." The threat marks an escalation of tensions between the United States and the Syrian government and its backers over control of Syria's southeastern frontier with Iraq, where Washington has been training Syrian rebels at a base inside Syrian territory as part of its campaign against Islamic State. The area is seen as crucial to Assad's Iranian allies and could open an overland supply route from Tehran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—the "Shi'ite crescent" of Iranian influence that is a major concern to U.S. allies in the region. (CNN, 06.08.17, Reuters, 06.07.17)
  • Russia has demanded that the U.S. stop attacking forces that support the Syrian government as they overtake positions held by the Islamic State militant group on the country's border with Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly made the comments June 10 on a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, responding to three U.S. air strikes in the past few weeks against forces battling ISIS and other insurgent groups on behalf of Russian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Newsweek, 06.12.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared North Korea the “most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security,” before the House Armed Services Committee on the night of June 12, moving Kim Jong Un’s regime past Russia as the No. 1 threat that the United States faces. But Mattis still identified Russia as a threat, along with China, Iran and terrorist organizations. Russia and China, he said, are both “resurgent and more aggressive” and have placed the “international order under assault.” Mattis said there was no indication that Russia wanted a positive relationship with the United States, saying it had chosen to be a strategic competitor. (The Washington Post, 06.12.17, Reuters, 06.12.17)
  • The U.N. envoy for Syria visited Russia on June 8 for talks focusing on future peace negotiations. The envoy, Staffan de Mistura, said his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov comes at a “delicate, important moment” in Syria’s six-year-old civil war. (AP, 06.08.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman discussed the Qatar crisis in a phone call on June 13. Putin warned King Salman that the blockade against Qatar by its neighbors would make it harder to reach a peaceful end to the war in Syria. The comment came in a statement issued by the Kremlin after the call on June 13. Russia’s foreign minister told his counterpart from Qatar on June 10 that Moscow will make efforts to try to resolve the escalating crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries. (AP, 06.10.17, Aljazeera, 06.13.17, Reuters, 06.13.17)
  • Syria has received 225,000 tons of Russian wheat, part of a 1.2 million ton wheat deal struck in February through its state grain buyer, a government source told Reuters on June 13. (Reuters, 06.13.17)