The Commander of the Russian military grouping in Syria gives first interview to “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”
When President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin acknowledged the military personnel, who had particularly distinguished themselves in Syria, in the Kremlin last week, few people knew that Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was honoured with the title Hero of Russia, had commanded our troops in that Arab country for almost 6 months.
Previously the name of the military leader, who held the post of first Deputy-Chief of Staff of the Central Military District, was never mentioned in connection with the air and especially not with the ground operation against the terrorists. And only a narrow circle of people was even aware that Dvornikov was sent on assignment to Syria, that he was directing our units and coordinating their interaction with the local government forces.
The details of many of the combat operations developed and executed under Dvornikov’s command are still classified. Nevertheless, in an exclusive interview with “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” the General recounted some of the events of his Syrian campaign for the first time.
Aleksandr Vladimirovitch, let us recall what was going on in Syria at the time the Russian military contingent arrived there.
Aleksandr Dvornikov: The group of Russian troops under my command arrived in the Syrian Arab Republic in September of last year with the task of dealing with the evolving situation and with the state of the Syrian army.
I can tell you one thing: the situation at that time was clearly not in favour of Damascus. The terrorists, who numbered more than 60.000, occupied around 70% of the territory of Syria. Gangs had seized control of the major cities of Idlib, Palmyra and Raqqa.
The terrorists controlled a large part of the suburbs of Homs and Damascus, conducted large-scale offensives in the province of Latakia and were preparing to surround and capture Aleppo. And the key Damascus-Aleppo highway, joining the South and North of the country, was under constant threat of blockade by the militants.
On top of that, the government troops were exhausted after 4 years of hostilities and were holding off the terrorist offensives with great difficulty. The population was leaving the country en masse.
And what do we have now? What are the results of the military work of our servicemen in Syria?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: The activities of the Russian grouping during these five and a half months radically reversed the situation in Syria.
The coordinated work of the Russian aviation in the air with the government and loyalist forces on the ground formed the basis of the success of the military operation against the terrorists. In order to increase their combat capabilities, we gave the Syrian army modern weapons and military equipment within the framework of military-technical assistance. This included artillery systems, means of communication, intelligence etc. In the shortest possible time, a system of military advisors with its administrative apparatus was established in Syria. They successfully accomplished the task of preparing the government forces as well as the Kurds and other loyalist formations. The situation was affected positively by the fact that our advisors took a most active role in the preparation of combat activities.
This collaboration allowed them to destroy the terrorists’ infrastructure and lines of supply, to take back the initiative and to go on the offensive. And this they did in 15 directions at the same time. This forced the militants to abandon large offensive operations and to act instead in small groups.
No less important was the fact that the successful actions against the criminals inspired the Syrian people. Syrians understood that it is possible to beat and conquer ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra (both designated as terrorist organizations and banned in Russia).
In addition, a volunteer movement was born in the Syrian society, volunteer brigades and battalions were formed. Today in Syria several thousand people already fight in their ranks against the militants.
Compelling evidence that the patience of the Syrian people was exhausted was the expulsion of Jabhat Al-Nusra criminals from a number of localities in the central and southern provinces of the country by ordinary citizens.
Despite their differences with the authorities in Damascus, the Syrian Kurds took a most active part in the fight against the terrorists in the north of the country. Even now they are continuing to conduct offensive operations against ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra.
So you are saying that all sections of the population of Syria joined the fight?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: Just so. The war against terrorism in Syria has acquired a truly national character. And the situation at the front has changed dramatically. Moreover, the volunteer units played a significant role in the offensive operations.
Taking control of key regions in the northeast of the province of Aleppo seriously affected the militants’ supply lines and the transfer of reinforcements from Turkey through the corridor between Jarabulus and Azaz. This created the conditions for the crushing defeat of ISIS to the north of Aleppo.
What do we have now? We have the liberation of the Kuweires airbase as well as a number of settlements that had been under terrorist control for more than 3 years. The militants have been completely driven out of the province of Latakia. Coastal areas, in which a significant part of the population of Syria is concentrated, have been cleansed of terrorists.
In the East of Syria, Palmyra is blockaded and military action is ongoing to liberate it. The taking of this city, which has particular historical and geographical significance for Syria, will effectively cut the ISIS grouping into two parts and open the road to Raqqa and Deir-Ez-Zor, which will create the conditions necessary to reach and take control of the Iraq border.
Furthermore, control was re-established over three large oil and gas fields, which had previously served as a source of income for the terrorists.
In the Ministry of Defence reports, we often heard the names of a number of Syrian provinces – Hama, Homs and Damascus: What is going on there now?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: These provinces are located in the central part of the country. And for the most part they have been cleared of illegal armed groups. Now a most active process of reconciliation is going on there. From a military point of view it is very important that the major roads in Syria are under the control of the government forces.
Generally speaking, during the military operation Syrian troops – with air support – liberated 400 populated areas. The potential of the terrorist groups was halved, they lost the initiative and the territory controlled by them was reduced by 10.000 square kilometres.
And you mustn’t forget that around two thousand terrorists, originally coming from the Russian Federation – were destroyed on Syrian territory. Of these 17 were field commanders. These preventive measures with regards to militants are a kind of guarantee of the security of our state and of Russian citizens.
A very important result of the military operation, in my opinion, is the improved morale of the Syrian people in general and the government forces in particular. The possible disintegration of the country has been prevented.
The actions of the Russian Army in Syria didn’t just “put one over” on the Western politicians but also on their intelligence services. They perceived the deployment of our air force to the Hmeimim air base as a bolt from the blue. I would say that the whirlwind return home of our people and equipment was just as unexpected. How did you achieve this?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: Due to surprise inspections of the combat readiness of our Armed Forces they had already repeatedly practiced the transfer of significant military forces over long distances.
For this reason, when we received the order regarding deployment of the group to Syria, it was, as it should be, executed precisely and in the shortest possible time. Comprehensive support for the group from the territory of the Russian Federation was established just as quickly and effectively.
The main burden in this case rested on military-transport aircraft and the naval fleet. Since September, more than 640 air and more than 80 sea transports were carried out.
The emergence of contemporary modular construction in our army enabled the deployment to Hmeimim Airbase of all essential infrastructure elements from airfield facilities to residential and administrative buildings to refectories and showers literally in a matter of days.
Dramatic events have unfolded before your eyes over the last almost half a year in Syria. Now there is hope for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in that country. What is your evaluation of this possibility?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: You probably know that the work of the Centre for Reconciliation is organized on the territory of the Hmeimim airbase. Sixty Russian officers work there but most of them have been assigned to the provinces. Despite the apparent violations, the cessation of hostilities in Syria has for the most part been observed. The process of reconciliation is most active in the provinces of Hama and Homs. We hope that the fighting in these regions will stop completely in the nearest future.
The main thing is that the armistice process continues. At the time of my departure from Syria, 43 armed groups had agreed to the terms of the cessation of hostilities and 51 village elders had signed the reconciliation agreement. Their number is growing every day.
At the same time, the shelling by the Turks of the Kurdish military units, who are fighting against the Jabhat Al-Nusra terrorists in the north of the province of Aleppo, gives cause for concern. These actions effectively demonstrate Ankara’s support for the armed groups who are trying to derail the reconciliation process in Syria.
There is a question which has been discussed since our troops were first dispatched to Syria. Did they participate in ground operations?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: Our military advisors have worked and are working at all levels, including tactically. These officers assist their Syrian colleagues in the planning and execution of combat operations against the terrorists and also in familiarizing themselves with the Russian military equipment.
I will not hide the fact that units of our special operations forces are operating in Syria. They reconnoitre objects for the Russian airstrikes, guide planes to targets in remote areas and solve other special tasks.
But we must bear in mind that similar units from the armed forces of the USA and other coalition states also carry out diverse tasks in Syria.
Now there is a lot of talk in the media about which divisions remain in Syria after the withdrawal of the main part of the Russian group. Can you shed any light on this issue?
Aleksandr Dvornikov: I am of course not going to list the entire grouping down to the last soldier and plane. I will say this: we will retain in Syria the size of force necessary to ensure control of the cessation of hostilities. And also for the safe operation of our airbase at Hmeimim and of the post providing logistics support to the Russian Navy in Tartus.
Aleksandr Vladimirovitch Dvornikov was born 22nd August 1961 in Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai.
He graduated from the Ussuriysk Suvorov Military School (1978), the Moscow Higher Military School Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR (1982), the Military Academy M. V. Frunze (1991) and the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (2005).
He served in the Far East Military District in the positions of Platoon Commander, Company Commander and Battalion Chief of Staff. In the Western group of forces he served as a Deputy and then as Commander of a Motorized Infantry Battalion.
From 1995 to 2000 he was Regiment Chief of Staff, then Regiment Commander in the Moscow Military District. From 2000 to 2003 he served in the North Caucasus Military District as Division Chief of Staff and then as Division Commander.
In 2005 he was appointed Deputy Commander of the Unit and then the Unit Chief of Staff in the Siberian Military District, then Unit Commander (5th Red Banner Combined Arms Army) in the Far East Military District (2008-2010).
From 2011-2012 he was Deputy Commander of the Eastern Military District. From April 2012 he was Chief of Staff – First Deputy Commander of the Central Military District. He was named Colonel General.
Another 160 soldiers and officers from the Russian military group in Syria have returned home. First an Il-76 military transport plane brought them from Hmeimim airbase to the Novosibirsk airport of Tolmatchevo. Then the servicemen reached the Yurga garrison in the Kemerovo region by car.
According to the Central Military District (CMD) Press Service, all of the soldiers and officers returning home were serving in the CMD Logistics Support Brigade. In Syria they tanked up the aircraft with fuel and lubricants, they provided food to the military personnel at the Hmeimim airbase, ran their bath and laundry service and maintained and repaired airfield facilities. In addition it was these experts who delivered various goods from the logistics post of our Navy in Tartus to the Russian airbase in the province of Latakia.
According to the CMD Press Service, the Yurginsky Brigade seconded more than 200 servicemen to Syria in total.
Yesterday the “Ruslan”, an An-124 military transport aircraft, flew from Hmeimim to Russia. According to some reports, it took 3 Mi-35 helicopters and various pieces of equipment to their place of permanent deployment. In Syria the crews of the “thirty-fifth” were primarily concerned with the protection of the Russian airbase from the air.