Russia’s Options in Syria

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Russia's Options in Syria

Original written by Igor Korotchenko and published on his blog; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

German journal Bild am Sontag reported, citing US intelligence sources, that representatives of the CIA and the SVR held a closed meeting in Moscow last week. They met to discuss the situation in Syria and the question of cooperation on exchanging information concerning the Islamic State terror organization.

Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu and US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter held a telephone conversation on Sunday and reached consensus on the need to continue discussions concerning the situation in Syria. This is the first high-level contact between the Pentagon and Russian MOD after the US froze contacts with its Russian counterparts due to the Ukrainian crisis. It is noteworthy that a few days prior to that discussion, the official representatives of Washington categorically ruled out the possibility of any direct contact between Russian and US defense establishments. Which means the situation is changing.

One should note that the contacts took place against the background of numerous Western media announcements that Russia is allegedly actively participating in combat operations in Syria on the side of the country’s government, is shipping weapons and equipment there, and even deploying Russian troops.

Russian President’s press secretary Dmitriy Peskov’s announcement that Russia while would consider Syria’s request for Russian troops if it were to receive such a request, it would be difficult to discuss it as a hypothetical scenario, also received a variety of interpretations.

Therefore let’s dot the “i’s”.

At present time the Russian Federation is genuinely providing massive military and technical assistance to Syria in the form of arms, equipment, and munitions. These supplies are being delivered both by air, using Military Transport Aviation aircraft, and by sea. “Voyentorg” is constantly at work due to the difficult situation at the front and active ISIL offensive operations.

At the same time, Russian military and technical specialists have arrived in Damascus in order to help Syrians master the new weapons and equipment, however they are not directly participating in the combat operations. The mission headed by the chief Russian military advisor to Syria likely includes several dozen individuals plus a unit ensuring their security. Therefore all the talk about whole “columns of Russian forces” are nothing more than a bluff.

In all likelihood, Russia is also providing the Syrian General Staff with intelligence information and is helping government forces with planning and operational skills in their operations against ISIL detachments. These include satellite intelligence and radio intercepts. Syrians are also actively using Russian-made UAVs.

What happens next?

The Negative Scenario: Bashar al-Assad is unable to keep situation under control in spite of Russia’s help. Facing the threat of the fall of Damascus, Russia is forced to evacuate its embassy, the military advisor mission, and Russian citizens living in Syria.

The Positive Scenario: A broad-based international coalition against ISIL is formed which then receives a UN Security Council mandate. Russia’s participation in the coalition would likely be limited to the use of Long-Range Aviation.

Russian troops would not participate in land battles, these functions would be undertaken by the Iranian Army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and of course Syrian armed forces.

The anti-ISIL operation on the territory of Iraq would be conducted by Western coalition members and Persian Gulf states.

There is still the question of whether the US and its allies are prepared for this type of cooperation.

The Realistic Scenario: Russia and Iran have to solve the task of preserving Bashar al-Assad’s government on their own. I can’t even begin to describe the various options available, as there are too many of them. But one thing is clear: the repeat of the Afghan experience in Syria, with a large-scale introduction of Russian forces is, in my view, wholly out of the question.

And what is your opinion on how the situation in and around Syria will develop?

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