Russia in Syria Monitor, May 23-30, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian air strikes over the past month have killed 27 Syrian civilians, a monitor said on May 30, the lowest monthly civilian death toll since Moscow began its bombing campaign. Since September 2015, the campaign has killed more than 12,000 people including 5,000 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Moscow denies the claims and says it only targets "terrorist" groups. (AFP, 05.30.17)
  • "Russia is using Syria as a way to showcase its weaponry for export sales," Omar Lamrani, an analyst with Stratfor, told Business Insider, specifically mentioning their SU-34 fighter jet and cruise missiles. (Business Insider, 05.24.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • U.S. military phone calls with Russia have increased as the two countries work to avoid aircraft mishaps in the increasingly crowded skies over Syria, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said May 24. Military operations by Russia, the Syrian government or its allies are essentially restricted in those zones so American and U.S.-backed forces are protected, he said. Harrigian declined to say how many exist or where they are. But he acknowledged one is about 55 kilometers around Tanf, near the Jordan border. (AP, 05.24.17)
  • Russia and the United States continue discussing the situation in Syria in a round-the-clock mode and are preparing a joint project on the southern zone of de-escalation, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at the Federation Council. "A great work is underway with them," Shoigu said. "We would like it to be completed and presented as a project ready for implementation. But we are working with them and working, naturally, on the southern zone of de-escalation," the minister said. (TASS, 05.24.17)
  • A Russian fighter jet recently conducted an "unprofessional" intercept of U.S. KC-10 tanker aircraft in the skies over Syria, prompting Russian officers to apologize, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said on May 24. A U.S. military official told CNN that the incident took place approximately two weeks ago and that the Russian fighter had performed a "barrel roll" over the U.S. plane. (CNN, 05.25.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • During his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron issued a warning directed at Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Macron said France’s “red line” would be the use of chemical weapons on civilians, vowing to stand ready to strike back in retaliation. However, he suggested he might drop France’s insistence on Assad’s departure as a precondition for a political settlement, putting the emphasis instead on the need to maintain the integrity of the Syrian state. Putin seemed to concur. “We cannot fight against terrorism by fighting against a fragile state in the region,” Putin said. Putin underlined the importance of securing the Syrian state, adding that it's essential for combatting terrorism. Putin also said he and Macron have agreed to discuss pursuing closer cooperation on anti-terror efforts. Putin said that the French leader proposed exchanging official delegations to work toward that goal. Macron is now keen to reset the relationship with Moscow, aides say. “There have been missed opportunities with Russia in the recent past, on Syria notably. The idea is to keep Russia close to Europe,” an adviser to Macron said before the meeting. (Financial Times, 05.29.17, AP, 05.29.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed on May 30 any suggestion that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were behind a chemical attack that killed scores of people in the Idlib province in April. (Reuters, 05.30.17)
  • Russia expects China to help settle the Syrian crisis and restore its economy, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said May 30 at the international conference called "Russia and China: Towards a New Quality of Bilateral Relations." “Our interaction with China on Syria through various international platforms is unequalled,” Morgulov said. (TASS, 05.30.17)
  • Syria and Venezuela plotted in recent years to evade international sanctions on Syria through a secret deal to transport its crude oil through Russia to the Caribbean. (Bloomberg, 05.25.17)
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a rare challenge to the Trump administration May 25: Prove to us that you are making progress with Russia over the war in Syria soon, or we will push forward with sanctions. (The Washington Post, 05.25.17)
  • Russia and Saudi Arabia hailed their growing partnership in oil markets and dialogue on Syria on May 30, in a departure from past hostilities between the top global producers and major players in the Middle East. (Reuters, 05.30.17)
  • Egypt called on Russia to help it fight Islamist militants that have staged a series of devastating attacks in the Arab country as senior officials of the two countries met in Cairo on May 29. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17)
  • Russian federal agents in Bashkortostan say they've arrested a man suspected of fighting with a Russian-speaking group tied to the terrorist organization al-Qaida since at least 2014. Russia’s Federal Security Service says the suspect was detained earlier this month by guards while crossing the Turkish-Syrian border, before being returned to Russia. (The Moscow Times, 05.24.17)
  • Russia’s main domestic security agency says it has arrested four members of the Islamic State group who have been preparing attacks in Moscow. The Federal Security Service said that the four were working under directions from IS in Syria to prepare attacks using self-made explosive devices. (AP, 05.25.17)