HARVARD

 

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • The Syrian government and its ally Russia on Dec. 6 issued stark warnings to rebels in besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the rebels will be wiped out unless they stop fighting and leave the city. Syrian government forces and allied militias captured Aleppo’s centrally located al-Shaar neighborhood from rebels on Dec. 6 as the government and Russia rejected a cease-fire for the war-torn city. (AP, 12.06.16)
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military, backed by Russian firepower and Iranian-trained militias, should regain control of the entire city of Aleppo within a month or two, according to Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament. Another Russian senator, Ilyas Umakhanov, who’s met with Assad in Damascus and recently returned from talks in Tehran, said gaining “a decisive military edge” in Syria now is the best way to achieve peace in the future. (Bloomberg, 12.05.16)
  • Moscow and its ally, the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, have repeatedly said they oppose any cease-fire proposal for the divided northern city of Aleppo that doesn’t include the exit of all antigovernment rebels from the neighborhoods they hold. They have also said they won’t allow the insurgents to use a truce as an opportunity to regroup. (Wall Street Journal, 12.06.16)
  • Syrian activists said Dec. 5 that Russian and Syrian aircraft have stepped up their assaults on the rebel-held province of Idlib, a day after air raids killed more than 60 people. (AP, 12.05.16)
  • The Russian Defense Ministry said Dec. 5 that two of its nurses had been killed in an attack on a field clinic. Describing the armed opposition as “animals in human form,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov blamed the rebellion’s Western backers. “The blood of our servicemen is on the hands of those who ordered this murder,” he said. “Yes, yes, I mean you, gentlemen, those who cover for the terrorists from the United States, Great Britain and France and other states and entities that sympathize with them.” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said the Kremlin regrets a “more than modest” reaction by the international community following the attack.  (The Washington Post, 12.05.16, AP, 12.06.16)
  • On Dec. 4, Russian troops helped deliver aid to thousands of people crammed into what had been shops in a covered market in Jibreen, a government-held town south of Aleppo. (New York Times, 12.05.16)
  • A Russian Su-33 fighter jet has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea during an attempt to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the crash happened when the carrier’s arresting gear broke and the pilot failed to execute a proper go-around procedure. This is the second crash in three weeks involving a plane attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deck. The first crash, involving a Mig-29, was also due to broken arresting gear. The carrier may halt flight operations after losing two combat aircraft in less than a month. Aircraft would be relocated to Russia’s Khmeimim airbase in Syria’s Latakia province, sources told Kommersant. Recently released satellite images of the airfield suggest that some jets from Russia’s lone aircraft carrier have already been moved inland. (The Moscow Times, 12.06.16, The Moscow Times, 12.05.16, The Washington Post, 11.30.16)
  • The Russian military said last week it had sent a team of combat engineers to clear the eastern part of Aleppo from mines. Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Nov. 30 that the unit has 200 soldiers and 47 vehicles. (AP, 11.30.16)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • No significant developments.

Risk of accidental or intentional confrontation between Western and Russian forces in Syria:

  • U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said there were continuing incidents involving Russian aircraft buzzing U.S. vessels, with some coming as close as 30 feet, and other cases where ships were behaving “erratically.” “More communication with Russia would be a valuable thing,” Richardson said, noting that he had regular contact with his counterpart in China, but not with those in Russia or Iran. (Reuters, 12.05.16)
  • U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum that Russia’s goal to undermine NATO is a dangerous game, and Russian forces “are operating with a frequency and in places that we haven’t seen for decades.” (Foreign Policy, 12.05.16)
  • Communication with Russia in order to avoid clashes in the air over Syria have been “professional and productive” and the U.S. will “continue to engage with the Russians” on the safety of flights, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters Nov. 29. (TASS, 11.30.16)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • CIA Director John Brennan advised U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and the new administration “to be wary of Russian promises,” blaming Moscow for much of the suffering in Syria. Brennan said Russia continues to hold the key to Syria’s future. But he also expressed skepticism about Russia’s willingness to come to any kind of deal “until they are able to achieve as much tactical battlefield successes as possible.” The CIA director added that he believes Washington needs to continue supporting moderate rebels. (RFE/RL, 11.30.16)

Analysis:

  • Former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has met with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, said in an interview that it is unlikely Americans would support the kind of military commitment needed to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “I think we have to begin by being realistic,” he said. “Assad is going to remain in power, and the Russians are committed to that.” “Show me a strategy right now that gets rid of Assad,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a close Trump adviser, said in an interview, suggesting no such strategy exists. “The Russians are for him and the Iranians are for him, and there’s no coalition of forces in the region that defeats him. So it starts with reality.” (Wall Street Journal, 12.04.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin is seizing on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to reverse U.S. policy on Syria to press for a military victory that could mark Russia’s return as a great-power rival in the wider Middle East. “The Russians are rushing to create a fait accompli on the ground before Trump gets to the White House,” said Bassma Kodmani, a leader of the High Negotiations Council, a Syrian political group supported by countries including the U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia. (Bloomberg, 12.05.16)

Other important news:

  • The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a defense bill that included language giving the incoming Trump administration the authority to send shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to rebel groups fighting in Syria. While the bill provides certain restrictions for transferring the controversial weapons, known as MANPADS or Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, it represents a significant shift from prior iterations of the legislation. The missile-related language, first reported by Al-Monitor, also contradicts international guidelines championed by the United States that imply a de facto ban on transferring the shoulder-fired weapons to nonstate actors. (The Washington Post, 12.06.16)
  • Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council proposal to stop the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Dec. 5, thwarting flurried international efforts to end violence that has killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks. (The Washington Post, 12.05.16)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Dec. 6 that negotiations between Moscow and the U.S. over Syria were breaking down and that Washington wouldn’t attend this week’s scheduled talks in Geneva. The U.S. had no immediate reply to Mr. Lavrov’s comments or his assertion that Washington had bowed out of the planned talks on Dec. 7. Last week, Syrian rebels were reported to have been in secret talks with Russia to end the fighting in Aleppo, but the talks failed. (Wall Street Journal, 12.06.16, Reuters, 12.02.16, RIA/RBTH, 12.01.16, Financial Times, 12.01.16)
  • “I certainly count on joining efforts with the United States in the fight against real rather than fictional threats, international terrorism being one of them. That is the task our servicemen are fulfilling in Syria,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his Dec. 1 address to parliament. “Unlike some of our colleagues abroad, who consider Russia an adversary, we do not seek and never have sought enemies. We need friends. But we will not allow our interests to be infringed upon or ignored,” he said. (Kremlin.ru, 12.01.16)
  • Russia has been in contact over Syria with the team of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, a senior Russian diplomat said Nov. 30, suggesting that Moscow is already looking past the Obama administration when it comes to the crisis in Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying that Russia had been in communication with “several people that we have known for a long time.” (The Washington Post, 11.30.16)
  • The Kremlin said last week President Vladimir Putin had another telephone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, their third conversation in less than a week. The conversation follows a speech Erdogan gave Nov. 29 in which he said that Turkish troops are in Syria to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Turkey’s foreign minister told a joint news conference on Dec. 1 with his visiting Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that Ankara was in agreement with Moscow in broad terms on the need for a truce, humanitarian aid and political transition, but insisted that Turkey’s stance on Assad was unchanged. (AP, 11.30.16, RFE/RL, 12.01.16)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) says it has killed a leader of the Islamic State militant group during a raid in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan. In a statement issued on Dec. 4, the FSB said it had killed Rustam Aselderov and “four of his close associates” during a raid on a private house near Dagestan’s capital city of Makhachkala. (RFE/RL,12.04.16)
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