Russia in Syria Monitor, Oct. 31-Nov. 7, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russia’s Defense Ministry says five of its soldiers and four Russian television reporters were injured Nov. 6 by a mine explosion in the largest city of eastern Syria, Deir el-Zour, which was reportedly recaptured last week from Islamic State militants by Syrian government forces backed by Russia. On Nov. 1 six long-range strategic bombers took off from their bases in Russia to hit militant targets in the eponymous province of Deir el-Zour, Syria's main oil-producing region and IS’s last significant stronghold. (RFE/RL, 11.06.17, Financial Times, 11.03.17, Reuters, 11.01.17, Reuters, 11.07.17)
  • Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers struck Islamic State targets near the town of Albu Kamal in Syria Nov. 4. The planes overflew Iran and Iraq. (Reuters, 11.04.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. is still working to resolve conflicts with Russia in the increasingly crowded skies over the Iraq-Syria border, where much of the fighting has shifted. Focus has now turned to the strategic border town of Boukamal, the last urban center for militants in both Iraq and Syria, where Syrian troops backed by Russia and Iranian-supported militias and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are vying for control. (AP, 11.06.17)
  • Syria’s army and its allies will keep fighting in Syria after the battle ends in Deir el-Zour province, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Nov. 7. He also indicated that he might take the war to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, by saying the war targeted those who seek to “divide and weaken states.” (Reuters, 11.07.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Ilan Berman, the senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, writes: “The Kremlin needs a real plan to mitigate the returnee threat [posed by Russian nationals returning from rebel groups in Syria and Iraq]. Moreover, given the quickening pace of the Islamic State’s decline in the Middle East, it is going to need such a strategy very soon.” (The National Interest, 11.03.17)
  • The Economist: “Though many Russians gladly cheer the Kremlin’s wars, whether in eastern Ukraine or Syria, as seen on the television screen, they largely do not aspire to become martyrs for the cause.” (The Economist, 11.02.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin may meet this week at an economic summit in Vietnam. “We may have a meeting with Putin,” Trump said. “And, again, Putin is very important because they can help us with North Korea. They can help us with Syria. We have to talk about Ukraine.” (The Washington Post, 11.03.17)
  • The United States and Russia are pushing competing plans at the U.N. to extend an investigation to determine who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. (RFE/RL, 11.03.17)
  • Putin held talks with Iran's leadership on the Syria crisis, the 2015 international nuclear agreement and energy cooperation on a Nov. 1 visit to Iran. Putin met first with Iranian President Hassan Rohani and then with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During his visit, Putin vocally backed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and hailed cooperation with Iran on the Syrian conflict. Rohani, Putin and visiting Azerbaijani President llham Aliyev also held a trilateral meeting. (RFE/RL, 11.01.17, RFE/RL, 11.01.17)
  • An unnamed senior U.S. official met Syria’s national security chief, Ali Mamlouk, in Damascus in the highest ranking visit to Syria by a U.S. official since the war’s start in 2011. (Reuters, 11.04.17)
  • U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard said in a news briefing Oct. 31 there are approximately between 3,000 and 7,000 Islamic State fighters left throughout the Euphrates River valley. (The Washington Post, 11.03.17) 
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Sochi on Nov. 13 amid reports of potential sticking points in plans for Turkey to purchase a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Retired Turkish general Haldun Solmazturk has claimed that the chances of Turkey actually going ahead with the missile system purchase were “even less than 10 percent.” Additionally, Ankara is objecting to the attendance of Syrian Kurdish groups at a Russian-sponsored Syrian peace congress scheduled for Nov. 18. (Reuters, 11.06.17, The Moscow Times, 11.06.17)
    • Erdogan’s spokesman said Nov. 5 that the Russian-sponsored congress has been postponed and the main Syrian Kurdish group will not be invited if it is held later. Russia on Nov. 7 denied postponing the conference, while not confirming the earlier announced Nov. 18 date, after the plan gained a cool reception from Turkey and its Western allies. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the congress “is being prepared now” but the date is not yet set. (Reuters, 11.05.17, AFP, 11.07.17)
    • The Syrian opposition attending the latest peace talks in Astana also rejected the Russian call for a "Syrian Congress on National Dialogue" in Sochi in November. (Al Jazeera, 11.01.17)
  • A sister of New York City terror suspect Sayfullo Saipov has said her family believes the 29-year-old was "brainwashed" and has pleaded with U.S. authorities to give him "time" and a "fair trial." (RFE/RL, 11.03.17)
  • 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)