Syria: a quiet zone of Russian presence
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 Nov , 2023

Sergei Shoigu – Russian Minister of Defense

On September 30, 2015, Russia launched one of the most successful military operations in history on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. It was the first time in Russia’s post- Soviet history that the country’s Armed Forces were taking part in a military operation outside the former USSR. No matter what some analysts say, Russia has obviously achieved military success in Syria. In addition to their assigned tasks, the Defense Ministry, headed by Sergei Shoigu, managed to demonstrate to the world not only the power of Russian weapons, but also an understanding of military affairs, proved by the victory over terrorism in Syria.

Bombers and attack aircraft operated non-stop, day and night. In November 2015, the aviation group set a record flying 134 sorties a day. At the close of 2015, the “heavyweights” – strategic Tu-160, Tu-95 and long-range Tu-22M3 – joined in the fray. Paired up with the long-range Tu-22Ms, the strategic bombers flying at high altitudes destroyed concentrations of enemy manpower, command posts and militant training camps in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

The Navy also participated in the operations. For the first time, the aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov joined in the battle, and small missile ships deployed in the Caspian Sea fired Caliber cruise missiles at the militants’ positions, some of which were destroyed also by Bastion coastal missile systems.

In mid-March 2016, the Syrian army, with the support of Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft and helicopters, occupied commanding heights near Palmyra. On March 28, Russia’s military chief of staff, General Valery Gerasimov, reported that,assisted by Russian pilots and Special Operations units, the Syrian government forces had completely taken control of Palmyra. Already on December 11, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the completion of the Aerospace Forces operation and the withdrawal of the strike aviation group from the country.

About 122,000 terrorist targets and upwards of 133,000 militants were destroyed, and 1,500 settlements were liberated. The Russian Aerospace Forces aircraft flewa total of 40,000 sorties, and Navy ships and submarines performed almost 200 combat missions to the shores of Syria.

The Syrian Desert has become a kind of training ground for testing military technologies in real-combat conditions, and for training personnel. As many as 63,000 military personnel,including 25,000 officers and more than 400 generals, have passed through Syria. All commanders of military districts and armies, commanders of divisions, brigades and regiments gained valuable experience in commanding troops in battle. Experts tested 231 models of modernized and advanced weapons in real-combat conditions, such as sea- and air-launched cruise missiles, precision weapons, airplanes and helicopters, as well as air defense and electronic warfare systems.

By the end of 2018, the bulk of the Russian military contingent had left the country with the Khmeimim airbase and the naval logistics center in Tartus remaining permanently in Syria. Now there are military advisers, Special Operations troopers, specialists from the Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties and military police units working there. In addition to military tasks, Russia is also implementing humanitarian ones. The Russian Center for the reconciliation of warring parties and control over the movement of refugees had overseen 3,600 humanitarian operations with over 7,588 tons of food, bottled water and basic necessities delivered and distributed among people in need in the Syrian Arab Republic.

“Russia’s position in Syria is still far from critical, but certain challenges are unavoidable,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out in the article “Forgotten Front:Why Syria is becoming a headache for Russia“. In this article, the Washington-based international affairs think tank engages in wishful thinking by trying to convince the reader that things are going very bad for Russia everywhere, including Syria.

“Indeed, Washington finally has a clear justification for continuing its campaign in Syria. The more Russia gets entangled in the Middle East, the more challenging it becomes for Moscow to handle Ukraine,” – emotionally, but honestly. However, situation on the ground is different and Moscow is acting. About 1,000 Russian military personnel arrived in Syria in mid-October ignoring Israeli shelling of the country’s main airports. These military advisers and specialists arrived, among other things, to replace various private military companies (PMCs) that had been collaborating with the Syrian leadership for many years. Moscow and Damascus are in no way inclined to scale down their fight against Islamic terrorism either due to the situation in Israel or the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Defense Ministry, led by Sergei Shoigu, quickly and effectively took over the share of the military assistance to Syria that was provided by the Wagner PMC, focusing on maximum effectiveness in the fight against terrorism. Even though US analysts believe that replacing Yevgeny Prigozhin’s PMC in Syria won’t be easy as the war in Ukraine complicates the rotation of armed forces, the situation with war in Ukraine suggests the opposite: Russian troops are confidently moving forward and there is no reason to talk about any problems with personnel. On the contrary, it is now clear that Russia, which has successfully repulsed all Ukrainian attacks and is pushing forward, is so confident in its abilities that it can afford to considerably augment its presence in both Syria and the African countries.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Slavisha Batko Milacic

graduated history at University of Montenegro. His specialist graduate thesis was: "Foreign Policy of Russia from 1905 to 1917". He participated in several seminars for journalists and analysts, organized in the Balkans. 

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