Russia in Syria Monitor, Nov. 28-Dec. 5, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian warplanes have flown 672 missions in support of Kurdish and other volunteer units fighting Islamic State east of the Euphrates River. The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Dec. 3 it had fully captured Deir el-Zour’s eastern countryside from IS with the help of both the U.S.-led coalition and Russia. The U.S.-led coalition and Russian forces in Syria provided “air and logistical support, advice and coordination on the ground,” an YPG statement said." (Reuters, 12.04.17, AP, 12.04.17)
  • Jets believed to be Syrian and Russian struck heavily crowded residential areas in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens in the third week of a stepped-up assault. (Reuters, 12.03.17)
  • Six Tu-22M3 long-range bombers carried out a group airstrike in Syria on Islamic State targets in southeast Deir el-Zour, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Dec.3. The Russian air force carried out nearly 420 combat sorties in Syria Nov. 25-Dec. 1. (Interfax, 12.03.17, TASS, 12.01.17)
  • The Black Sea fleet Admiral Grigorovich frigate is returning to the Mediterranean Sea. "At present the Veliky Novgorod and the Kolpino submarines are operating in the Mediterranean Sea and the Admiral Grigorovich is sailing there," Adm. Alexander Vitko, commander of the fleet, said. (TASS, 12.04.17)

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:

  • Dennis Ross, a counselor at the Washington Institute, writes: “Much like President Obama, Mr. Trump's policy has been exclusively anti-Islamic State, giving Iran and Russia a free hand to dictate outcomes in the country. This won't end well. … There is little chance of the Russians implementing a peace agreement in good faith so long as they see no cost for noncompliance. The Trump administration could alter Mr. Putin's calculus—and make the diplomatic process more credible—by conveying quietly that if the Russians will not stop the Assad-Shia expansion into the de-escalation zones, the U.S. will.” (Wall Street Journal, 12.04.17)
  • James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, senior fellows and analysts in foreign affairs, write: “More than six years of efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have failed. The United States and its European and Gulf Arab allies recognize that even the continued provision of military assistance to the opposition, now at much reduced levels, will not bring about that goal. [A U.S.] approach to reconstruction [in Syria] offered on a community-by-community basis could foster a bottom-up political process, help consolidate the peace, reduce the regime’s reliance on Russia and Iran and make the reemergence of a terrorist movement like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) less likely.” (RAND, 2017)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Vienna on Dec. 7, with Syria and Ukraine to be on the agenda. Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Brussels, Vienna and Paris on Dec. 4-8 for NATO, European Union and OSCE meetings. (RFE/RL, 12.02.17)
  • “With respect to Russia, there are areas of mutual cooperation. We’re working hard in Syria to defeat ISIS and … I think there are other areas of counterterrorism. Russia has great fear of migration out of the Central Asian regions and terrorism inside of Russia. … We think there’s areas of greater cooperation on counterterrorism with Russia. There may be opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. (U.S. State Department, 11.28.17)
  • “We are working together with Russia on how to prevent the civil war from re-erupting, and so we’ve had a lot of conversations over what does Russia see as the end state of Syria, what do we see as the end state and there’s a lot of commonality there,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. (U.S. State Department, 11.28.17)
  • The Syrian conflict is likely to drag on and could reignite into full-scale civil war as long as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, despite efforts by Russia to paint the conflict as winding down, according to White House officials. Declarations of victory by Assad’s backers are premature, officials said, and only the Geneva talks that can lead to a sustainable settlement. (Bloomberg, 12.05.17)
  • Russia and the United States have managed to reach greater understanding on anti-terror efforts in Syria thanks to regular contacts between the military, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Dec. 1. Terrorism in Syria will be defeated soon, he said. (TASS, 12.01.17, Interfax, 12.01.17)
  • Russia’s U.N. envoy Vassily Nebenzia accused the U.S.-led coalition in Syria on Nov. 29 of trying to partition the country by setting up local governing bodies in areas seized from Islamic State. Nebenzia clashed with the U.N. humanitarian chief as well as U.S. and other Western diplomats on Nov. 29 over extending the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines in Syria. (Reuters, 11.29.17, AP, 11.29.17)
  • United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has presented a document outlining his vision of a post-war Syria. De Mistura's Nov. 30 paper contains provisions on commitment to Syria's territorial integrity, democratic values and an election process, political pluralism, the Syrian people's right to choose a political, economic and social system without pressure or interference from the outside and other essential principles. (Interfax, 12.02.17)
  • The Syrian government’s decision to quit peace talks last week was an embarrassment to its main supporter, Russia, which wants both sides to reach a deal quickly, opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said Dec. 4. The Syrian opposition delegation aims for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and plans to engage his negotiators in serious and direct talks. Syria’s opposition wants Russia and other states to put pressure on Assad to engage in the peace talks to produce a political solution within six months, the chief of its delegation said last week. The head of the government delegation has called the opposition communique to the talks, in which they state that their goal is to see a transition period take effect without Assad, “irresponsible.” (Reuters, 12.04.17, Reuters, 11.27.17, Reuters, 11.29.17, AP, 12.05.17)
  • Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Aridi called on the United Nations and allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to halt a bombing campaign that has escalated in recent weeks against eastern Ghouta. (AP, 12.05.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in a phone conversation Dec. 4 that they are satisfied by the success in eliminating terrorists in Syria. Last week Russia approved a draft agreement with Egypt for Russian warplanes to use Egyptian military bases, which would allow Moscow to further increase its military footprint in the Mideast. (TASS, 12.04.17. AP, 11.30.17)