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November 25, 2015 No.
6228

Reports In Arab Media: Russia Expanding Military Involvement In Syria To Strengthen Regime's Position In Political Process

For the past week, even before Turkey's downing of the Russian plane, Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese media have been publishing articles estimating that Syria is facing a new stage in Russia's military involvement in the country, and that Russia is expected to escalate its participation in the Syria war with ground troops and an unprecedented expansion of its aerial campaign.

These reports follow statements by President Putin on November 20, 2015 in a talk with commanders and officials from the Russian defense ministry, in which he said that the results of the Syria offensive "are still not enough to clear Syria of armed and terrorist groups and defend Russia from a possible terrorist attack.ÔÇØ He added: ÔÇ£There is much work ahead of us. I hope that the next stages [of the offensive] will take place with the same quality and professionalism and will lead to results."[1]

The Russian decision to escalate its activity is likely motivated by the approach of January 1, 2016, on which, according to agreements reached during the last Vienna conference, Syrian regime and opposition representatives are to meet for negotiations under the auspices of the UN, concurrent to a ceasefire between them.[2] It seems that Russia and its allies - Syria and Iran - are trying to maximize their achievements against the Syrian rebels on the ground in order to collect bargaining chips in anticipation of the negotiations, especially considering that, so far, the Russian aerial campaign has not made substantial achievements.

A Kremlin spokesman denied that Russia intended to launch a ground operation in Syria,[3] but despite the denial, Arab media has reported in recent days that the situation on the ground has already escalated. This includes an increased number of Russian airstrikes, and an expansion of airstrikes into the Turkmen region, despite this being a red line for Turkey; the dispatching of Russian infantry forces to Syria, which, according to one report, have already begun fighting on the ground; and a Russian report on the deployment of new artillery forces.

This document will review the reports on this topic in Arab media.

 
Image: Russia-insider.com

Syrian And Pro-Syrian Media Estimate: Russia Launching New Stage In Fighting; Will Dispatch Ground Troops; Unprecedented Escalation Due In December

Firas 'Aziz Dib, a columnist for the Syrian government daily Al-Watan, wrote on November 22 that "the statement by President Putin that the current operations in Syria are insufficient means that there are preparations for major future activity, namely dispatching additional ground troops."[4]

An article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar by Elie Hanna titled "Russia War: Phase Two" stated: "The Russians knew from the beginning that airstrikes alone would not be enough to secure a victory and that there is a need for different management of operations and greater coordination... All this indicates that Russia will increase its involvement. We are facing a new stage that does not cancel out what came before it but is part of an open war with clear waypoints... The war will definitely not end quickly, [but] we are facing months that will not be like the months that came before."[5]

Another article in Al-Akhbar, by Suhaib Anjarini, stated: "December will be hot on the ground in Syria. All signs [indicate] that the coming months will see an unprecedented escalation." He also claimed that, following the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai and the Paris attacks, "there is a proper international atmosphere to promote the Russian move [of expanding the offensive in Syria] without incurring a torrent of global condemnations. The Paris attacks have shortened the [waiting] time, and Moscow was ready to use the opportunity [to escalate its operations]. Today we can safely say that the Syria war is headed for a new stage, characterized mainly by the Syrian army and its allies escalating their joint military attack to unprecedented levels. What has happened in the Latakia area in the past two days [meaning the bombing of the Turkmens] is nothing but a small preamble."[6]

Muhammad Ballout, a columnist for the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Safir, wrote on November 21 that Russian ground operations were likely, given that introducing more Iranian troops would enrage the Saudis and would not be compatible with the current trend of establishing a military alliance with the West, particularly with France, to combat ISIS.

Ballout concluded that the Russians expect more than just a local victory in Syria. Rather, ÔÇ£they expect that a victory in Syria and restabilizing [this country] via a balanced political process, as well as blocking the Turks and other regional forces that are aspiring to play a role in the weakened Syria, will enable them to recreate their achievements in the region and strengthen them, and also spread into Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. [Russia's] main goal in the war, which could require dispatching ground troops and more jets, is perhaps to shape a regional Arab order in the East under Russian patronage and to exclude Russia's opponents [from the Middle East]."[7]

Arab Media: Russia Already Expanding Offensive; Ground Troops Participating In Syria Combat

Various reports in recent days indicate that the Russians have already begun stepping up their operations on the ground. The reports claim that Russia recently increased the number of its airstrikes, has begun artillery shelling from the Mediterranean, and that Russian ground troops are already in Syria and fighting against rebel forces. The reports also mention airdrops of advanced military equipment.

Additionally, on November 20, the Russian defense minister announced that the Russian navy has begun shelling Syrian targets from both the Mediterranean and the Caspian seas.[8]

Three days earlier, on November 17, the TV network Russia Today published a report submitted by the Russian defense ministry to President Putin, which included a map showing new Russian artillery deployment in Syria since November 6.[9]

On November 18, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that, several days earlier, the Syrian army, with Russian air force backup, had begun a massive offensive on Turkmen villages in Jabal Turkman, north of Latakia near the Turkish border, and that many Turkmen civilians had fled towards the border.[10] It should be mentioned in this context that the Turkmen population in Syria is backed and supported by Turkey, and the daily Al-Akhbar reported that Turkey considers harm against them to be a red line. However, the daily also assessed that bombing Turkmen population centers is a necessary step for Russia and the Syrian regime in advance of the next stage of fighting, which seems to be aimed at gaining full control of the Syria coast, and that Russia has therefore decided to ignore Turkey's red lines.[11]

Additionally, on November 23, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai reported, citing Syrian regime sources, that Russian leaders recently decided to expand their military operations in Syria, including dispatching the Russian infantry. The report stated that "Russian infantry, aided by tanks and jets, [had] participated for the first time" in combat against opposition forces in the area between Latakia and Idlib in northwest Syria and had taken over a strategic hill.[12]

A similar report on November 24, 2015 in Al-Safir cited Syrian sources as saying that a Russian force of 20 T-90 tanks with full crews had landed that day at Al-Nairab air base, "one of the most important airports in North Syria." The report also stated that the Russian air force had expanded its fleet in Syria to include some 80 jets and combat helicopters, and had increased the number of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Deir Al-Zor, Al-Raqqa, and Tadmur, carrying out some 200 sorties in two days using Tupolev strategic bombers. It reported further that the Russian navy had shelled targets in Syria from the Caspian Sea as well as from submarines in the Mediterranean.[13]

On November 21, 2015, Al-Akhbar commented that it was safe to say the fighting had escalated. It reported that additional airfields in Syria had been placed at the disposal of the Russian air force, such as Al-Nairab, situated 5 kilometers east of Aleppo, and that most air bases in regime-controlled areas were being prepared to receive Russian planes. It reported further on the preparation of missile bases, such as a base situated 27 kilometers north of Latakia and bases in the Aleppo area, and that Tupolev bombers were being deployed by the Russian air force.[14]

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Tass.ru, November 20, 2015.

[2] State.gov, November 14, 2015.

[3] Interfax.ru, November 17, 2015.

[4] Al-Watan (Syria), November 22, 2015.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 21, 2015.

[6] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 21, 2015.

[7] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 21, 2015.

[8] RT.com, November 20, 2015.

[9] Youtube.com/watch?v=RS2w1zzLrmg&feature=youtu.be&t=4m5s , November 17, 2015.

[10] Aa.com.tr, November 21, 2015.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 21, 2015.

[12] Al-Rai (Kuwait), November 23, 2015.

[13] Al-Safir (Lebanon), November 24, 2015.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 21, 2015.