Russia in Syria Monitor, March 28-April 4, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian planes did not carry out air strikes in the Syrian province of Idlib, RIA news agency quoted Russia's Defense Ministry as saying on April 4. "Russian military aircraft carried out no air strikes near Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province," RIA quoted the ministry as saying. A suspected gas attack, believed to be by Syrian government jets, killed at least 58 people in the Idlib on April 4, a war monitoring group and medical workers said. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • Britain is urging Russia and China not to block action against those responsible for a suspected chemical attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province which it is calling “a war crime.” (AP, 04.04.17)
  • Currently, roughly 20% of the strikes carried out by Russian aircraft in Syria have used guided weapons, while the U.S. military uses them exclusively. (The Washington Post, 03.31.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Jeffrey D. Sachs, economist and director of Columbia University’s The Earth Institute, writes: “The United States is trapped in the Middle East by its own pseudo-intellectual constructions. …  During the Vietnam War, the ‘domino theory’ claimed that if America withdrew from Vietnam, communism would sweep Asia. The new domino theory is that if the United States stops were to stop fighting ISIS, Islamic terrorists would soon be at our doorstep. The truth is almost the opposite. … The United States should immediately end its fighting in the Middle East and turn to U.N.-based diplomacy for real solutions and security.” (The Boston Globe, 04.02.17)


  • David Gardner, international affairs editor at the Financial Times, writes: “President Vladimir Putin set limits to Turkey’s 2016 incursion into Syria, intended mainly to stop the People’s Protection Units [YPG] linking its eastern territory to Afrin in north-west Syria. Russian trainers in Afrin are even working with the YPG, which wants to turn its militia into a fully-fledged army. The strange geopolitical bedfellows Syria’s chaos encourages has led to speculation the U.S. will stand by and watch as Raqqa, rid of ISIS, falls back under the Assad regime. That would be a victory for Russia, as well as Iran. Syria’s Kurds have no wish to govern this mainly Sunni Arab city, only to use its liberation as collateral for their own freedom.” (Financial Times, 04.04.17)

Other important news:

  • Senior Trump administration officials, reshaping U.S. policy in the Middle East, have declared formally in recent days that Washington no longer is focused on the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a priority. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 30 said that Assad's future was up to the Syrian people. However, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says Assad is "a war criminal" and that the United States would not accept that he could again run for election in the war-torn country. Reporters asked Haley at news briefing on April 3 if Tillerson’s statement meant Washington would accept that Assad could again run for the presidency in elections. "No, it doesn't mean that the U.S. will accept it," she said. (Wall Street Journal, 04.01.17, RFE/RL, 04.04.17)
  • The European Union’s top diplomat says it is unrealistic to think that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could retain power over any future government in a post-war Syria. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said April 3 that “it seems completely unrealistic to believe that the future of Syria will be exactly the same as it used to be in the past.” (AP, 04.03.17)
  • Hezbollah now fights alongside Russian troops, its first alliance with a global power. It was Hezbollah that devised the battlefield plan for Aleppo used by Syrian and Russian forces last year, according to Arab and U.S. officials who monitor the group. (Wall Street Journal, 04.03.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on March 30 that Moscow would support U.S. President Donald Trump in fighting terrorism and cooperate with the Pentagon and the CIA, particularly on fighting Islamic State in Syria. "Only by pooling efforts can we efficiently combat terrorism," Putin said. "I hope that we will eventually come to constructive cooperation." He added that he's looking forward to discussing the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if he visits Moscow. (Reuters, 03.30.17, AP, 03.30.17)
  • “…if their [Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov and U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford] discussions go beyond deconfliction, I don’t want to speculate, this would be a welcome sign that we can really do what is necessary to bring about the situation when everyone who confronts ISIL and Nusra on the ground acts in coordination,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview. (The National Interest, 03.29.17) 
  • Russian investigators suspect a radical Islamist immigrant from Kyrgyzstan detonated the explosive in a St. Petersburg subway car on April 3, killing 14 in the worst terrorist attack in a major Russian city in years, Interfax reported. Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee (GKNB) has named a 22-year-old Russian citizen as a suspect in the deadly terror attack.  The GKNB said that Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, could be linked to the blast. (The Moscow Times, 04.04.17, Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
    • Russia has issued search warrants for two people for their possible role in the April 3 deadly metro blast in St. Petersburg, Interfax quoted a security source as saying. (Reuters, 04.03.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Russia’s second-largest city at the time of the attack, visited the Federal Security Service’s St. Petersburg branch to be briefed by officials and later laid flowers at the site of the explosion. Security was tightened across the city of 5 million people, as well as in Moscow. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin's presence in St. Petersburg at the time of a bomb attack on the metro which killed 14 people is "noteworthy," the Kremlin said on April 4. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • U.S. President Donald Trump, asked about the blast by reporters in Washington, called it a “terrible, terrible thing—happening all over the world.” In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump “offered the full support of the United States government in responding to the attack and bringing those responsible to justice,” according to a White House statement. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Trump called Putin only to express condolences, but noted that Russia may accept U.S. assistance if it proved necessary. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17, TASS, 04.04.17)
    • The leaders of Russia, Germany and France agreed in a phone call on April 4 to speed up the exchange of data aimed at fighting terrorism, the Kremlin said. The Kremlin said the leaders also discussed the situation in Ukraine and the Easter ceasefire declared from April 1. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 4 it would be "cynical and mean" to call a deadly blast in St. Petersburg an act of revenge for Russia's actions in Syria, Russian state news agency RIA reported. The deadly bomb blast in St. Petersburg shows the need for joint efforts against global terrorism, he said. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
    • Russia’s two biggest cities haven’t suffered a major attack in more than six years. (Bloomberg, 04.04.17)
  • The office of the governor of Russia's southern Astrakhan region on April 4 said radical Islamists were responsible for the killings of two policemen in the region on April 3, the RIA news agency reported. (Reuters, 04,04.17)
  • Turkish security forces have detained 18 people attempting to illegally cross to Turkey from its Syrian border, including a Chechen man suspected of planning an attack, the military said on April 4. (Reuters, 04.04.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has expressed concern over Russia's activities in Afghanistan and its interaction with the Taliban militant group. (RFE/RL, 03.31.17)