Russia in Syria Monitor, Nov. 21-28, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers on Nov. 25 struck at Islamic State infrastructure and forces in Syria. The bombers had taken off from an airfield in Russia. While in Syrian airspace, they were escorted by Sukhoi Su-30SM fighters stationed at the Hmeimim airbase. On Nov. 26, six Tu-22M3 long-range bombers hit IS targets in the Deir el-Zour province. (Reuters, 11.26.17, Interfax, 11.27.17)
  • The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 53 civilians, including children, had been killed in Russian air strikes in the village of Al-Shafah in the Deir el-Zour province. Russia’s Defense Ministry denied on Nov. 27 that Russian war planes had carried out these air strikes. (Reuters, 11.27.17)
  • Russian mine-clearing engineers received a unique compact robotized reconnaissance complex, the Strekoza. It is a drone equipped with off-line radar, a video camera and GPS-module and has been tested in Syria. (Interfax, 11.28.17)

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:

  • Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “In order to be a more important player in the [Middle East] region, Russia would need to be much more than an arms supplier to several countries. Energy policy coordination, especially with Saudi Arabia and Iran, is one area where Moscow’s influence can grow. Another area is infrastructure development, linking Russia with the Middle East along the North-South axis, across the Black Sea, the Caspian and the Caucasus.” (Polity, 2017)


  • Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “The Middle East is … as good a model as any for twenty-first-century power games changing the global balance. … Moscow, of course, has not supplanted Washington as the principal actor or main security provider in the Middle East. It has no interest, no ​resources and no intention to claim that role. What it has done instead is to have broken out of its post-Soviet condition of being essentially preoccupied with the former imperial borderlands and largely absent from the rest of the world. Thus, Russia has signaled that it is returning to the global stage as a major independent geopolitical player.” (Polity, 2017) 
  • David Ignatius, a veteran foreign correspondent-turned-columnist, writes: “Trump and Tillerson … share the unpopular but probably inescapable view that the United States must work with Russia to stabilize Syria. Russia’s centrality in the miserable Syrian war was dramatized anew by President Vladimir Putin’s meeting Monday with President Bashar al-Assad, who thanked the Russian leader for ‘saving our country.’ … Putin has emerged as a dominant force in Syria, and he wants to play the peacemaker there now, but he doesn’t hold all the cards. U.S. allies control big swaths of Syrian territory, and they’re the missing pieces of Putin’s peace process.” (The Washington Post, 11.21.17)

Other important news:

  • Russia proposed imposing a ceasefire in the Eastern Ghouta de-escalation zone for Nov. 27-28. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, clashes with Islamic State continue in Eastern Ghouta, which is why it is impossible to declare a ceasefire there. At least 147 have been killed by air strikes and shelling since the Syrian army, with Russian air power, began the offensive to take the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta nearly two weeks ago. (TASS, 11.28.17, Reuters, 11.27.17)
  • The Syrian opposition delegation at peace talks in Geneva is aiming for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and plans to engage his negotiators in serious and direct talks, the head of the opposition delegation, Nasr Hariri, said Nov. 27. Syria’s government delegation will arrive a day late in Geneva. The delay appeared to reflect the government’s displeasure with the opposition’s insistence that Assad must leave at the start of any transitional period. (Reuters, 11.27.17, AP, 11.28.17)
  • A Russian-backed Congress of Syrian peoples in Sochi has been postponed until February. The Kremlin said Nov. 28 that no firm date has been set yet, and stressed that such a forum should be as inclusive as possible.(Reuters, 11.27.17, Reuters, 11.28.17)
  • United Nations special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Nov. 24 was “useful.” (Reuters, 11.24.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said there’s a “real chance” to end the 6 1/2 year civil war in Syria as he met his counterparts from Iran and Turkey on Nov. 22 in Sochi seeking to seal a peace deal likely to keep his ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that foreign interference in the conflict in Syria must end and foreign military presence in the country may only be acceptable if it is by the invitation of Syria’s government. (Bloomberg, 11.22.17, The Moscow Times, 11.22.17)
  • Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Iraqi National Security Advisor Falah al-Fayadh confirmed the importance of further coordination in fighting international terror groups in Iraq, Syria and the entire Middle East. (TASS, 11.28.17)
  • The Trump administration is preparing to stop supplying weapons to ethnic Kurdish fighters in Syria. (The Washington Post, 11.24.17)
  • Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, said Nov. 22 the expert body that has determined responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria “is dead”—but Moscow is ready to discuss “a new mechanism.” (AP, 11.22.17) 
  • A U.S. grand jury has leveled 22 new charges, including murder and support for Islamic State, against Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, accused of running down eight people in a truck attack in New York City in October. If convicted on the murder charges, Saipov could face the death penalty. (RFE/RL, 11.22.17)