Russia in Syria Monitor, Sept. 5-12, 2017

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russia’s military said Sept. 12 that Syrian troops have liberated about 85% of the country’s territory from militants, a major turn-around two years after Moscow intervened. Russian Lt. Gen. Alexander Lapin said the Syrian government still must clear the militants holding approximately 27,000 square kilometers (10,425 square miles), the remaining 15%. (AP, 09.12.17)
  • An advanced detachment of the Russian Armed Forces’ international anti-mine center has been dispatched to Syria. A total of 175 specialists with 42 items of special equipment, including advanced Uran-6 robots, will join the humanitarian mine-clearing operation. (TASS, 09.12.17)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry reported on Sept. 8 that in the previous two weeks its planes had flown 1,417 combat sorties in Syria, claiming to have killed 1,200 terrorists in that period. The ministry also said that day that it has killed four Islamic State group leaders in an airstrike outside the eastern Syria city of Deir Ezzor, including IS leaders Abu Muhammad al-Shimali and Gulmurod Khalimov. Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft backing the advance of Syrian government forces in the Uqayribat area have destroyed around 180 terrorist facilities from Sept. 11 to Sept. 12. (Russia Matters, 09.11.17, AP, 09.08.17, Interfax, 09.12.17)
  • Dozens of civilians have been killed since Sept. 10 in suspected Russian air strikes along the River Euphrates in eastern Syria, activists say. Jets are reported to have hit camps for displaced people on the western bank of the river and passenger ferries outside the city of Deir Ezzor. (BBC, 09.12.17)
  • On Sept. 12, Russia’s defense minister met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss joint military efforts and the fight against Islamic State. (Reuters, 09.12.17)
  • Russian military police units may be deployed to the Idlib de-escalation area in Syria. (Interfax, 09.11.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Requests for purchasing Russia’s Kalibr cruise missiles have risen amid the operation in Syria, according to a senior Russian official. (TASS, 09.12.17)

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

  • U.S.-backed militias and the Syrian Army are less than 10 miles from each other as they converge on the Islamic State stronghold of Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, which still hosts around 2,500 Islamic State fighters. The simultaneous offensives have brought both forces—backed separately by the U.S., Russia and Iran—into striking distance of each other, setting the stage for a potentially explosive situation. (Foreign Policy, 09.11.17)
  • At Russia's request, the U.S. military on Sept. 8 called off its surveillance of a convoy of Islamic State fighters that has been stuck in the Syrian Desert for the past 10 days, saying it is now up to the Syrian government to resolve its fate. The decision to withdraw the warplanes came after Syrian troops advancing through the province of Deir Ezzor passed the point where the convoy is located, leaving it behind Syrian army lines. (The Washington Post, 09.09.17)
  • Israeli warplanes struck a military position near the Mediterranean coast in western Syria on Sept. 7, killing two soldiers near the town of Masyaf, in Hama. The area is the stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and is also heavily protected by the Russians and Iranians. The Sept. 7 air raid was seen as a message to both Russia and Iran that Israel can strike anywhere in Syria. (AP, 09.07.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Sam Nunn and Ernest J. Moniz, the co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the former U.S. Energy Secretary, write: “Washington and Moscow must recognize that despite their deep differences, there is an urgent need to address areas of common interest, chief among them reducing nuclear and other military risks and preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks.” (The Washington Post, 09.06.17)


  • Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova, an international security fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a Ukraine-based journalist, write: “Chechen members of ISIS have announced their intention to build an Islamic province in North Caucasus, but it seems unlikely they will succeed. The majority of them will not survive Syria and Iraq.” (Foreign Affairs, 09.07.17)
  • Henry Meyer and Glen Carey, Bloomberg journalists, write: “Saudi Arabia may be the latest country to give up on regime change in Syria and fall in line with Russia’s successful campaign to shore up [Syrian] President Bashar al-Assad. There are signs that the nations, long at odds over Syria, are now cooperating over a settlement that would leave Assad in place for the time being.” (Bloomberg, 09.08.17-09.10.17)

Other important news:

  • The Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria has facilitated agreements on the defection of ten commanders of illegal armed groups to the side of government forces. (Interfax, 09.11.17)
  • The armed Syrian opposition has confirmed that it will send a delegation to the sixth round of Syria negotiations in Astana on Sept. 14-15. (Interfax, 09.11.17, TASS, 09.11.17)
  • Russia hopes agreements on the fourth de-escalation zone in Syria near Idlib may be formalized at a meeting in Astana Sept. 14-15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. Saudi Arabia has assured Russia that it supports a gradual process of negotiating local cease-fires and setting up de-escalation zones in Syria. Asked Sept. 11 whether Saudi leaders support the Astana process, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters: “Yes, I think Saudi Arabia is determined to solve the Syria crisis.” (TASS, 09.10.17, AP, 09.11.17)
  • The Israeli intelligence minister said on Sept. 11 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was ready to permit Iran to set up military bases in Syria that would pose a long-term threat to neighboring Israel. (Reuters, 09.11.17)
  • Russia has practically solved the problem of international terrorism inside the country, but terrorism is on the rise across the globe, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said. (TASS, 09.12.17)
  • A Russian Islamic State fighter was sentenced to death by hanging in Iraq on Sept. 12, authorities said, a rare conviction of a foreign militant on terrorism charges. (Reuters, 09.11.17) 
  • More than 150 people have been stripped of Azerbaijani citizenship for taking part in hostilities on the side of terrorist organizations abroad. (Interfax, 09.12.17)
  • Turkey has signed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 antiaircraft missile systems in its first major weapons purchase from Moscow. (RFE/RL, 09.12.17)