print
memri
February 17, 2016 No.
6311

Russian Magazine: Russia's Air Force In Syria Is Winning The Battle For Assad

Recently, the Russian campaign in Syria reached its 100th day. An article in Expert Online, the website of the influential Russian analytical magazine Expert, reviews the state of the Syria war, analyzing the activities on various fronts as well as the Russian involvement. The article, by journalist Pyetr Skorobogatyj, states that, with Russia's help, the Syrian army is advancing slowly but surely. It stresses that the operation in Syria is not a substantial financial burden for Russia, and that it benefits Russia in many ways - including by allowing it to train pilots, test the performance of various weapons, and target Russian-speaking militants who are fighting in Syria. Most significantly, it allows Russia to establish a permanent presence in the Middle East that has an impact on all the region's countries.

The article then reviews the military situation in Syria region by region. Focusing first on the north, it stresses that the Kurdish forces there are making headway against ISIS and are laying down the foundations for what may eventually become a Kurdish autonomy or even an independent Kurdish state. The main loser, says the article, is Turkey, who is powerless to stop these developments from unfolding.

The article states further that Russia, using its S-400 missiles, has effectively set up a no-fly-zone in the north of Syria, thus enabling the regime forces to make substantial achievements against the rebels, especially in the Latakia area. It adds that the U.S., too, is planning to establish a military base in northeast Syria, in the Malikia area.

Moving to the southern region, the article states that the stalemate between the sides there - namely the regime forces and rebel groups backed by Jordan - has ended, since Jordan has ordered these forces to stop attacking Assad's troops. In Damascus, too, the regime is slowly flushing out the rebels, street by street and building by building. As for eastern Syria, the article concedes that ISIS still maintains a strong presence there and will be difficult to defeat.

 The following are excerpts from the article.[1]

 "The Air Campaign Is Not Expensive For Moscow, And It Allows Russia To Train Pilots And Test Different Types Of Weapons"

"As the Russian campaign recently reached its 100th day,[2] [Russia's] main goal appears to be the use of military power to force peace on the 'rational' [i.e., non-jihadist] rebel groups. There are a number of small [rebel] groups which have either joined Assad's military or have stayed independent but coordinate their activities with the Syrian army. [Russia's] largest partner [apart from the Syrian army] is the Syrian Democratic Army [SDA], a Sunni popular militia which is fighting in the north [of the country] alongside the Kurds and government troops. The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that Russia supports the SDA with weapons, ammunition and airstrikes. 'For its part, the patriotic opposition [i.e. the SDA] coordinates its military objectives with the Russian aviation group,' noted Lt. General Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of Main Operations Management in the Russian Army General Staff...

"The joint military campaign of the Russian Air Force and Syrian troops seems to be [progressing] slowly but surely. [The slow pace] is due to the broad spectrum of military goals which must be met, including pressure on all 'factions' in order to separate [potential] 'partners' from 'enemies,' as well as the necessity to return as much territory as possible to the Syrian government's control, in order to enable it to negotiate from a position of strength about the country's future. In addition, all the battle fronts seem chaotic, with many parallel 'seething cauldrons'... and with weather conditions are getting worse... All of these factors together make Russian air operations difficult, especially during the winter period. This week the 'bad guys' [i.e. ISIS] used the cover of a sandstorm [which hampered Russian air activity] to mount a major offensive on Deir Al-Zor, a Syrian enclave in the desert. This action resulted in a major defeat for the Syrian side. As prevailing weather conditions worsen, the... intensity of the military campaign will decrease...

"Notwithstanding, during the first 100 days of Russian Air Force and Navy operations, 217 villages and towns were retaken, and 1000 sq. km. of territory. The Russian-Syrian coalition has no need to hurry. The air campaign is not expensive for Moscow, and it allows Russia to train pilots and to test the battle performance of different types of weapons. These benefits are in addition to the political gains and to the main goal, which is to eliminate Russian-speaking fighters in theaters far away from Russia's borders.

"In addition, thanks to the new Russian air force base in the [the Syrian city of] Latakia, Moscow has established a permanent presence in the region, controlling a very important logistic hub. This modern military base (equipped with Iskander[3] and S-400[4] missiles)... changes the military and political situation in Iraq, Iran, Israel, the U.S... and, of course, Turkey"..."

"Russia Has Set Up A No-Fly Zone Using Its S-400 Surface-To-Air Missile System"

"[Meanwhile] the goals of the main participants in the Syrian battle have become clear. In the north of Syria... the Kurds are winning. They are finally receiving extensive military support from the U.S. and covert support from Russia. They are carrying out offensive operations against ISIS and expanding their territory, which might become a future Kurdish state or an autonomous region within Syria, depending on the final agreement... The main loser is Turkey, who is unpredictable, irresponsible and unable to keep agreements. Currently, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan can only look on as the Kurdish enclave continually grows stronger. [The Turkish President] can initiate military operations only on his own territory...

"The geopolitical value of northern Syria is understood by all parties. Russia has set up a no-fly zone [there] using its S-400 surface-to-air missile system... [while] Syria is strengthening its Al-Bab air base with Russian military advisors and the S-300[5] missile system. The Americans are not napping either, and plan to set up a military base in Malikia in north-east Syria... This will allow the U.S to carry out an independent policy without having to depend on the Kurdish state which is being established...

"The Syrian army, aided by Hizbullah's brigades, is doing very well in the Latakia governorate. The map [below] clearly shows the movement of the fighting forces over the last few months. The dotted red line represents the front on October 7, 2015. In the first half of January 2016, government troops finally showed fighting ability against the Islamist stronghold of Salma... It was the first time that Russian military experts actively took part in the campaign, probably coordinating the attack on Salma. Support from Russian planes in the northern Latakia province allows the Syrian army to continue its advance at full speed..."


Military situation in Latakia and Hama areas, January 21, 2016   

In The South, Jordan-Backed Rebels Have Been Ordered To Stop Attacking; In Damascus, The Government Is Flushing Out Islamists; In The East, ISIS Still Holds A Significant Area

"In the Dera province in the south, the opposing sides had [previously] agreed to maintain the status quo. Damascus was avoiding a conflict with Israel as well as with Jordan, which openly sponsored tribal forces and Islamist brigades... [Today, however,] the tactic of constant pressure [by Syrian regime troops on these forces and brigades] is producing results. The Military Operations Command [MOC] in Amman... which is coordinating rebel activities in southern Syria, has ordered [the forces it sponsors] to stop attacking [Syrian] government forces... Jordan's logic is very simple... Syrian refugees in Jordan now total about 30% of the population, the same number as the Palestinians living in Jordan... so Jordan prefers to try to stabilize the situation in Syria rather than dream about cutting off Syria's southern territories from the rest of the country. On the other hand, Damascus has begun to raise the issue of Israeli[-sponsored] rebels occupying the [Syrian] Golan Heights.

"In the Syrian capital, government troops are continuing to flush out Islamists and 'bad guys' from the city. The score is being kept not by counting streets retaken, but by counting buildings... The progress in the Damascus area is noticeable only when viewed over a long period of time. Below is a map showing the balance of forces in 2013, and beneath it a map showing the balance of forces in 2015.


Damascus area in 2013


Damascus' area in 2015

"In addition, peace talks between the government and some rebel groups are now underway. Just recently, an agreement was made with a rebel brigade in the Al-Qadam suburb [in Damascus]. Some militants who were disarmed were moved to Raqqa and Idlib, while almost 1,500 others agreed to switch to Assad's side...

"In spite of the relative success of government troops, ISIS still holds a significant area in the eastern part of Syria... The [ISIS] Caliphate is well-entrenched in the area it controls, with a strong force and command structure, and is not going to withdraw easily."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Expert.ru, January, 22, 2016.

[2] The Russian campaign in Syria started on September 30, 2015.

[3] A Russia-manufactured portable short-range ballistic missile system; NATO designation name: SS-26 Stone.

[4] A Russia-manufactured anti-aircraft weapons system; NATO designation name: SA-21 Growler.

[5] A Russia-manufactured long range surface-to-air missile system;  NATO designation name: SA-10 Grumble.