Russia in Syria Monitor, May 16-23, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Another Russian military adviser, Yevgeny Konstantinov, a native of Birobidzhan, was killed in Syria, officials with the regional branch of the All-Russian public organization of veterans called "Combat Brotherhood" said. Konstantinov was killed on May 3. Konstantinov’s colleague Maj. Alexander Skadlan was then killed while trying to help Konstantinov. (Pravda, 05.22.17, Meduza, 05.22.17)
  • Russian paratroopers and special forces have been deployed to the Al-Sweida Governorate in southern Syria this week, according to pro-Syrian government online newspaper Al-Masdar. (Russia Matters, 05.20.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Pentagon has stepped up communication with the Russian military over Syria: “In addition to the direct communication that I have, we've opened up a three-star level channel where RJ5 here in the joint staff routinely corresponds—communicates with his counterpart in Moscow. And then we have a pretty robust operational link on the ground from our combined air operations center and counter to the—to the Russians on the ground,” he said. While Dunford said military coordination was prohibited by U.S. law, he said expanded communications would be helpful as the areas where U.S. troops and aircraft operate become "increasingly complex and constrained." In one illustration of U.S.-Russian dialogue, Dunford said that he spoke on May 18 with Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces. “We had a proposal that we're working on with the Russians right now. I won't share the details. But—but my sense is that the Russians are as enthusiastic as we are to deconflict operations and ensure that we can continue to take the campaign to ISIS and ensure the safety of our personnel.” (U.S. Department of Defense, 05.19.17, The Washington Post, 05.19.17)
  • A U.S. airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces that the coalition said posed a threat to American troops and allied rebels operating near the border with Jordan on May 18, the first such close confrontation between U.S. forces and fighters backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The coalition said “apparent” Russian attempts to stop pro-Assad forces from moving toward the army base at Tanf, as well as warning shots and a show of force, had failed. The Syrian regime and its Russian allies condemned the U.S.-led coalition on May 19 for the attack. (AP, 05.18.17, Wall Street Journal, 05.19.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • RAND Corporation researchers Andrew Radin and Clinton Bruce Reach wrote: “Russian and U.S. interests are not always opposed. By recognizing that Russian views of the current international order vary across elements of the order, it becomes possible to identify points of potential cooperation and likely contestation. Where there are shared interests—including avoiding major war, improving economic cooperation and combating terrorism—cooperation is feasible and potentially desirable.” (RAND Corporation, May 2017)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a series of measures to expedite the ISIS group's defeat. Among those steps, Mattis said, is a new emphasis on encircling and cutting off the Islamic State in population centers, rather than positioning local forces around cities in a way that could allow militants to escape and regroup elsewhere. Mattis said Trump had also delegated decision-making "to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities." (The Washington Post, 05.19.17)
  • Top NATO commanders have recommended that the military alliance join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State extremist group. (RFE/RL, 05.17.17)
  • “Few nations have been spared the violent reach of terrorism. America has suffered repeated barbaric attacks from the atrocities of September 11 to the devastation of the Boston bombings to the horrible killings in San Bernardino and Orlando. The nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So, too, have the nations of Africa and South America. India, Russia, China and Australia have all been victims. But in sheer numbers, the deadliest toll has been exacted on the innocent people of Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in his speech on global terrorism that he gave while visiting Saudi Arabia. (The Washington Post, 05.21.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump told the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office that the Islamic State had used stolen airport security equipment to test a bomb that could be hidden in electronic devices and slipped undetected into an airplane cabin, the officials said. The information came from Israel. Israeli officials on May 17 sought to downplay any damage caused by Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials that was provided by Israel, and lauded the robust security cooperation with the United States just days before Trump is due to arrive for a state visit. (AP, 05.17.17, NBC, 05.17.17)
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he never named Israel during an Oval Office conversation with Russian officials in which he reportedly revealed sensitive intelligence gathered by an unidentified U.S. ally. (Bloomberg, 05.22.17)
  • The settlement of the crisis in Syria requires the involvement of Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said May 23 when asked his view of U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest remarks about Tehran. (TASS, 05.23.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed deep condolences to British Prime Minister Theresa May over the deadly terror attack at the Manchester Arena in England, the Kremlin press service said on May 23. (TASS, 05.23.17)
  • One of Russia’s top politicians has called the Manchester terror attack a “lesson” to British special forces for refusing to cooperate with their Russian counterparts. Viktor Ozerov, Chairman of the Defense Committee for Russia’s Federation Council, said that Russian intelligence agencies would aid any investigation into the attack. (The Moscow Times, 05.23.17)
  • Air strikes carried out by the U.S. and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said. (The Independent, 05.23.17)
  • When asked by the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center in May 2017 to assess which actor is most likely to use weapons of mass destruction against their country, Russians said they viewed al-Qaida and “Chechen terrorists” as the second and third likely source of such an attack after the United States. At the same time, Russians do not appear to be very concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons among the states. The share of Russians who think Russia and other nuclear powers should refrain from punishing other countries for pursuing nuclear weapons (41%) was greater than the share of Russians who think such aspiring members of the nuclear club should be punished (38%). (Russia Matters, 05.17.17)