Russia in Syria Monitor, Nov. 6-14, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Airstrikes on a market in the northern, rebel-held town of Atareb on Nov. 13 have left 61 dead. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were at least three airstrikes on the market, but it couldn't determine whether Russia or the Syrian government was behind the attack. The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused Russia. (AP, 11.14.17)
  • Russian-trained Syrian servicemen will soon be deployed in southeastern Syria. In the past month, over 600 such servicemen joined the pro-regime forces. (TASS, 11.13.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russia and Iran must do all they can to stop air strikes targeting civilians in Syria and reach a definitive cessation of hostilities, France said on Nov. 14. (Reuters, 11.14.17)

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

  • The Nov. 11 joint statement by the presidents of the United States and Russia says: “The presidents agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces and de-confliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against ISIS. They confirmed these efforts will be continued until the final defeat of ISIS is achieved. The presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They confirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254… [T]he two Presidents affirmed that these steps must include full implementation of UNSCR 2254, including constitutional reform and free and fair elections under UN supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.” (U.S. Department of State, 11.11.17)
  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last week that the U.S. is still working to resolve conflicts with Russia in the increasingly crowded skies over the Iraq and Syria border, where much of the fighting has shifted. (AP, 11.06.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor at the Naval War College, writes: “There is no support (even from Trump’s own appointees) for any compromise with Moscow that leaves [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad in power in Damascus, or that ratifies any of the gains Russia has made in Ukraine since 2014—not when there is still a sense that strong, concerted U.S. action could lead to different outcomes. … There is confidence that expanded sanctions, plus a renewed commitment to the Syrian opposition, could change Russia’s calculations—and therefore there is no reason to prematurely concede anything to the Kremlin.” (The National Interest, 11.13.17)
  • Leonid Bershidsky, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “The U.S.-Russian joint statement on Syria … contains an intriguing tidbit: The parties agreed that Syria should hold ‘free and fair elections under U.N. supervision, held to the highest international standards of transparency, with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.’ Elections in Syria may still seem like wishful thinking, but the fact that global adversaries are endorsing U.N. supervision is a hopeful sign, and not just for Syria.” (Bloomberg, 11.13.17)

Other important news:

  • “We agreed very quickly… We can save many, many, many lives by making a deal with Russia having to do with Syria, and then ultimately getting Syria solved and getting Ukraine solved and doing other things, having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing,” U.S. President Donald Trump said Nov. 11 regarding the joint statement he signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (The White House, 11.11.17)
  • Trump, in a stream of Twitter posts, has said having a positive relationship with Russia is "a good thing" and that Moscow can "greatly help" solve crises in Ukraine, North Korea and Syria, and with global terrorism. “I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism and Russia can greatly help!" (RFE/RL, 11.12.17)
  • Russia said on Nov. 13 that it was talking to the United States about the U.N. Security Council renewing an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but Washington countered that Moscow had refused to engage on a U.S.-drafted resolution. Syria and Russia faced harsh criticism on Nov. 9 at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons following an investigation that blamed Assad’s regime for a sarin attack that killed about 100 people in April. (AP, 11.09.17, Reuters, 11.13.17)
  • Syria has called on the United States to withdraw its forces from the country now that the fight against the Islamic State is nearly over. The presence of U.S. troops on Syrian soil without Damascus’ authorization is regarded as aggression, according to a Nov. 14 statement from the Syrian Foreign Ministry. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the U.S. will fight Islamic State in Syria "as long as they want to fight," describing a longer-term role for U.S. troops. (AP, 11.14.17, TASS, 11.14.17, Reuters, 11.14.17)
  • The U.S. is providing de-facto cover for Islamic State units in Syria and only pretending to fight terrorism in the Middle East, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Nov. 14. The ministry said the U.S. air force had tried to hinder Russian strikes on Islamic State militants around the Syrian town of Abu Kamal. In a series of social media posts, the ministry attempted to prove “irrefutable facts” of the case; however, one of the photos was quickly recognized as a screenshot from a mobile-phone military-simulation game, while others appear to have been lifted from a video published by the Iraqi Defense Ministry and others still from military action in Libya. According to Russian media, the Russian Defense Ministry is investigating the source of the visuals, but stood by its claim nonetheless. (Reuters, 11.14.17, Newsweek, 11.14.17, Independent, 11.14.17, The Guardian, 11.14.17, Russia Matters, 11.14.17)
  • Russia has not promised to ensure a withdrawal of pro-Iranian forces from Syria, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The presence of Iran in Syria is legitimate, Lavrov said. (Reuters, 11.14.17)
  • Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed their next steps in Syria during talks Nov. 13. Erdogan reaffirmed his country's interest in purchasing a missile defense system from Russia despite concern about the deal among Ankara's NATO allies. Russia and Turkey plan to launch the first reactor at Turkey’s Akkuyu nuclear power plant in 2023. Prior to his visit to Russia Erdogan took swipes at U.S. and Russian interventions in Syria and said if the countries truly believed a military solution was impossible, they should withdraw their troops. He also signaled that a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces in the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin could be imminent. (AP, 11.13.17, Reuters, 11.13.17, RFE/RL, 11.14.17, Hurriyet Daily News, 11.13.17, Bloomberg, 11.13.17)
  • The Israeli military fired a Patriot missile to shoot down a Russian-made spy drone over the Golan Heights on Nov. 11. Israel also signaled on Nov. 12 that it would keep up military strikes across its frontier with Syria to prevent any encroachment by Iranian-allied forces, even as the United States and Russia try to build up a ceasefire in the area. (RFE/RL, 11.11.17, Reuters, 11.12.17)
  • Russian boxing champion Vyacheslav Lapshin died in Syria while fighting for ISIS, according to (Russia Matters, 11.14.17)
  • A special aircraft has delivered 41 women and children from Syria to the Chechen capital of Grozny, brought by Ziyad Sabsabi, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s special representative for North Africa and the Middle East. (Interfax, 11.13.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service says it has detained 69 suspected members of Tablighi Jamaat, an outlawed Islamic group, during a raid near Moscow. (AP, 11.14.17)
  • Officials in Moscow say the Russian capital has faced over 500 fake bomb calls in two months and suffered a loss of millions of dollars as a result. (AP, 11.14.17)