Russia in Syria Monitor, Oct. 24-31, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Moscow may partially withdraw its forces from Syria as the crisis moves toward political settlement, including a partial roll back of equipment at the Hmeimim air base and part of its military contingent. No final decisions have been made yet. (TASS, 10.30.17)
  • Over 90% of Syria’s territory has already been liberated from terrorists, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. (TASS, 10.27.17)
  • Russia expects all “terrorists” in Syria to be destroyed by the end of the year and then plans to keep enough troops in the country to prevent any new conflict. (Reuters, 10.30.17)
  • Government forces will regain control of Syria's eastern border, and Islamic State will cease to exist as a military structure by the end of 2017, Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Vladimir Shamanov said. (Interfax, 10.30.17)
  • Russian submarine Veliky Novgorod on Oct. 31 fired three Kalibr cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province from the eastern Mediterranean, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. (Reuters, 10.31.17)
  • The Russian air force has flown over 360 missions in Syria in the past week, the Russian Defense Ministry said Oct. 27. (Interfax, 10.27.17)
  • Russian reconnaissance drones carry out over 1000 sorties a month in Syria, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu said. (TASS, 10.31.17)
  • A detachment of the Russian Baltic Fleet, the Boikiy and Soobrazitelnyy corvettes and the Kola sea tanker, has passed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean Sea. (Interfax, 10.30.17)
  • A death certificate issued by the Russian consulate in Damascus dated Oct. 4, 2017 shows that at least 131 Russian citizens died in Syria in the first nine months of this year. (Reuters, 10.27.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russia and the United States are using various channels for talks on Syria but have not made any tangible progress. Moscow insists that the U.S. shut down illegal military bases in Syria following the end of the operation there. (Interfax, 10.30.17)

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

  • Coordination between Damascus and Turkish forces in the Idlib de-escalation area will be carried out under Russian mediation at this stage. (Interfax, 10.30.17)
  • With Islamic State near defeat in Syria, Damascus is setting its sights on territory held by U.S.-supported Kurdish-led forces, risking a new confrontation that could draw the United States in more deeply and complicate Russian diplomacy. (Reuters, 10.31.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Researchers Mark Gunzinger, Bryan Clark, David Johnson and Jesse Sloman write: “[U.S. Defense Department] planners should consider these peacetime actions as part of China’s and Russia’s overarching military strategies. In other words, their new strategies include a continuum of activities undertaken in peacetime, such as small-scale ‘gray zone’ operations, that are designed to avoid inciting a major U.S. military response.” (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • Russia on Oct. 31 invited 33 Syrian groups and political parties to a “Syrian Congress on National Dialogue” which it will host on Nov. 18 in Sochi. (Reuters, 10.31.17)
  • The participants in the seventh round of Syria talks in Astana have drawn up a draft document on the release of hostages and captives. (Interfax, 10.31.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed on Oct. 30 coordination between the two countries in the Astana process on Syria. (TASS, 10.30.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to discuss the conflict in Syria and energy cooperation with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he visits Tehran on Nov. 1. (RFE/RL, 10.31.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 26 disputed suggestions that Syria has fallen under Iranian influence, saying that Russia is responsible for most of the government’s gains. He also reaffirmed the U.S. demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of the political transition after the defeat of Islamic State in Raqqa. (The Washington Post, 10.27.17, Bloomberg, 10.26.17)
  • A United Nations report blames Syrian government forces for an April sarin gas attack on a rebel-held village that killed at least 87 people. (RFE/RL, 10.27.17)
  • The U.N. reached thousands of beleaguered Syrians with emergency food relief for the first time in over a month on Oct. 30, amid warnings that conditions outside the Syrian capital have deteriorated to desperate levels under a suffocating government blockade. (AP, 10.30.17)
  • Germany and Russia need to overcome their mutual distrust, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Oct. 25 on a visit to Russia. The talks between Steinmeier and Russian President Vladimir Putin ranged from economic ties to the Ukraine and Syria conflicts and other international crises. (The Moscow Times, 10.26.17, AP, 10.25.17)
  • Islamic State has issued another threat ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with a photoshopped poster of star players Lionel Messi and Neymar being executed. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.17)
  • Uzbek citizen Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev has been sentenced to 15 years in prison by a U.S. court after pleading guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State. (RFE/RL, 10.28.17)