Russia in Syria Monitor, March 7-14, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Russia and the United States have exchanged opinions on setting up a "three-star" Syrian communication channel at the level of generals, said Navy Capt. Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to Hicks, the U.S. side expects that the armed forces of Russia and the United States will exchange information on Syria at a higher level than they presently do. This alternative channel of communication will allow to more efficiently managing "the immediate deconfliction we have been doing over the last several months." (TASS, 03.11.17)
  • “As part of an overall approach to its collective security, the Alliance seeks to improve transparency and reduce the risk of escalation by engaging in meaningful dialogue with Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in his third annual report. (NATO, 03.13.17)
  • Richard Sokolsky, a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, wrote: “Increased military-to-military communication, information exchange and transparency measures could help reduce the risk of an unintended NATO-Russian conflict as a result of an accident, misunderstanding or miscommunication.”  (Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Project, 03.13.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Ilan Goldenberg and Julie Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the director of its strategy and statecraft program, respectively, wrote: “… the United States should seek opportunities to cooperate with the Russian government where our interests align. The best example of Russian and American cooperation in the region is of course, the negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action where the U.S. and Russia collaborated on an issue of common interest with the goal of increasing the safety and security of the region. It is no secret that the Middle East can serve as a strategic sinkhole, forcing a disproportionate investment of American blood and treasure. Sharing the burden with other external powers like Russia could no doubt reduce the strain on the United States politically, financially and militarily.” (Foreign Policy, 03.07.17)


  • Financial Times columnist David Gardner wrote: “Russia and Iran would have to fight to retake all of Syria. That would be costly, in blood and cash. It would greatly increase the autonomy of [Syrian President] Mr. Assad, now a ward of two states. Yet their Syrian rump protectorate is already very costly. Arab securocrats say Iran alone had to spend $8 billion a year in 2013-14.” (Financial Times, 03.08.17)

Other important news:

  • Russian-led peace talks on Syria were derailed on March 14 as rebels backed by Turkey boycotted a third round of meetings in Kazakhstan and the Kremlin indicated there were international divisions over the process. (Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • Syrian opposition fighters will be allowed to leave the last rebel-held neighborhood in the city of Homs under a Russia-backed deal signed on March 13, a Syrian official and an activist said. (AP, 03.13.17)
  • The top U.N. human rights official called on March 14 for tens of thousands of detainees to be released from Syria's prisons and for torturers to be brought to court as part of a lasting peace. "Today, in a sense, the entire country has become a torture-chamber; a place of savage horror and absolute injustice," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein. (Reuters, 03.14.17)
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on March 13 that Moscow was ready to resume contacts with the United States on Syria, the Interfax news agency reported. "Up to this point, we've had no contacts with the U.S. on a political settlement in Syria," Gatilov was quoted as saying. The Kremlin's main spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said Moscow is frustrated with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration and a lack of progress in improving relations. "Unfortunately, we don't have a better understanding of when this dialogue can begin," Peskov said. (RFE/RL, 03.12.17, Reuters, 03.13.17)
  • The Trump administration has invited more than 60 nations and international organizations to Washington on March 22-23 for a strategy session on how to counter the Islamic State after a widely expected U.S.-backed military assault on the extremists’ home base. Russia was not invited. (AP, 03.09.17, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 03.09.17)
  • Under pressure in Washington over allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election, U.S. President Donald Trump has backed off his campaign pledge to cooperate on fighting terrorism in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Still, U.S. warplanes helped indirectly in the Russian-backed Syrian offensive to recapture the historic city of Palmyra last month, carrying out 23 strikes over nine days, as much as during the rest of February. Now, on Turkey, the two powers appear to have taken a tactical joint stance. (Bloomberg, 03.08.17)
  • The U.S. and Russia have found themselves teaming up for the first time in the war in Syria—against a country both call an ally: Turkey. The U.S. and Russia moved this week to block a threatened drive by Turkey to seize Manbij, a town in northern Syria about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Turkish border. A U.S. deployment and a Russian-brokered deal with Syrian forces created buffer zones that headed off any Turkish campaign against the Kurdish forces who hold the town—seen by Washington as key allies against Islamic State and by Turkey as terrorists. (Bloomberg, 03.08.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed close ties between Russian and Turkish militaries as he welcomed Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the March 10 talks focusing on Syria. "We are working actively on settlement of most acute crises in the world, first of all in Syria," Putin said during the meeting with Erdogan. Erdogan said that Turkey expects Russia to completely lift the economic sanctions it has imposed on Turkey after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November 2015. Russia and Turkey also signed a memorandum on March 10 creating a joint investment fund into which each country will invest up to $500 million (411.3 million pounds). On the eve of the Kremlin talks, the Russian Cabinet allowed the imports of Turkish cauliflower, broccoli and a couple other agricultural products. (AP, 03.10.17, TASS, 03.10.17, New York Times, 03.10.17, New York Times, 03.10.17)
  • When hopes for the cease-fire were high in Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had asked for an economic breakdown of Syria—how the oil, water and agriculture resources were divided in the country. The idea was that the Trump administration might be able to work with the Russians to carve out autonomous territories that could survive with little or no connection to Damascus, one senior U.S. official said this week. He said U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria seemed more likely if a Russian-guaranteed cease-fire proved durable. (AP, 03.09.17)
  • "Let’s talk about the reality, about the facts: since the Russians started their raids against ISIS in cooperation with the Syrian Army—of course, after we asked them to come and support us in our fight against the terrorists—ISIS has been shrinking," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said. (TASS, 03.13.17)
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied allegations that Russian Special Forces have deployed to Egypt in a bid assert the Kremlin's growing influence over neighboring Libya. (The Moscow Times, 03.14.17)
  • There are three reasons why Tajikistan finds itself the world's leading exporter of suicide bombers to Islamic State (IS) battlefields: state suppression of unofficial Islam, the humiliation of having to work as migrant laborers abroad and a former special-forces commander flipping to the Islamic State group. (RFE/RL, 03.12.17)