HARVARD

 

Details of Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin told the officers of Russia’s Northern Fleet that it was his idea to send a group of warships, including the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, to participate in the country’s military campaign in Syria. He also said Russian security services estimate that there are up to 4,000 militants from Russia and about 5,000 from former Soviet republics fighting in Syria, according to the Kremlin’s site. (Russia Matters, 02.23.17,AP, 02.23.17)
  • Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, on Feb. 22 hailed the military’sperformance in Syria, saying new Russian weapons have proven their worth in the conflict. Shoigu told the Russian parliament that the military has tested 162 types of weapons in Syria, and only 10 of them have failed to meet expectations. He also said that Russia and the United States might launch joint operations against Islamic State militants in the Syrian city of Raqqa. (TASS, 02.21.17, AP, 02.22.17)
  • The Russian frigate Admiral Grigorovich left the port of Sevastopol in Crimea on Feb. 27 for the Mediterranean where it will join the country’s naval forces deployed near the Syrian coast, a naval official said. (Reuters, 02.27.17)
  • The Syrian regime seized additional towns from ISIS southeast of al-Bab on Feb. 27 after ISIS withdrew. Regime control now abuts U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and also Turkish-backed opposition forces. ISIS will continue to launch attacks along this seam at which the interests of local and global anti-ISIS actors compete directly. (Institute for the Study of War,02.27.17)

Response to Russia’s military campaign in Syria:

  • U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Feb. 27 gave the White House a plan to “rapidly defeat” the Islamic State group, a Pentagon spokesman said. The strategy includes significant elements of the approach U.S. President Donald Trump inherited, while potentially deepening U.S. military involvement in Syria. Trump has earlier called for the plan to possibly include operational coordination with Russia. (AP, 02.27.17, The Washington Post, 02.22.17)
    • Senior U.S. military officials want to elevate talks with Russia about air operations over Iraq and Syria, an effort that is meant to protect pilots from collisions. “Our perspective has been that there needs to be another layer that allows us to have a more senior-level discussion, and we’ve got to work through where that layer is,” Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, the top Air Force commander in the Middle East, said this week, suggesting that adding a U.S. general with somewhere between one and three stars and a Russian counterpart would be helpful. U.S. military officials also have advocated for upgrading the technology used to communicate with the Russians, which up until now has consisted of “little more than a commercial phone line,” said Air Force Col. John Thomas. (The Washington Post, 02.24.17)
    • The ascent of the al-Qaeda-linked extremists in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province coincides with a suspension of aid to moderate rebel groups by their international allies The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, will now be able to justify intensifying airstrikes against the area, perhaps in alliance with the United States, which is already carrying out its own strikes against al-Qaeda targets in Idlib, analysts say. (The Washington Post, 02.23.17)

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

  • British Vice Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Gordon Messenger met Gen. Alexander Zhuravlev, the deputy chief of Russia’s general staff, and discussed how best to prevent accidents and other incidents involving the two countries’ militaries, the Interfax news agency said. (Reuters, 02.28.17).

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.

Analysis:

  • The Kremlin, increasingly convinced that U.S. President Donald Trump will not fundamentally change relations with Russia, is instead seeking to bolster its global influence by exploiting what it considers weakness in Washington, according to political advisers, diplomats, journalists and other analysts. (New York Times, 02.28.17)

Other important news:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 28 that a draft U.N. Security Council resolution put forward by Western powers to sanction Syria’s government over the alleged use of chemical weapons was inappropriate. The resolution drafted by France, Britain and the United States to ban the supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist Syrian military commanders was vetoed Feb. 28 by both Russia and China. (Reuters, 02.28.17, Reuters, 02.28.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has voiced hope for the success of a political settlement in Syria, saying it will help defeat the “terrorist malaise.” Putin said Feb. 23 at a meeting with Russian naval officers that Moscow’s goal in Syria is to help stabilize the legitimate government and fight international terrorism. (AP, 02.23.17)
  • Deepening differences between Russia and Iran risk repeating previous failed peace efforts for Syria led by the U.S. “Things aren’t going as smoothly as we would want” in the Geneva talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Feb. 28 during a visit to Kyrgyzstan. The chief spokesman for Syrian Western-backed opposition group the High Negotiations Committee said in Geneva, “Iran never wants any solution in Syria, the way they act on the ground shows that they want this war to continue. Hopefully, the Russians will understand that there is a partner that does not want any political transition and they will put pressure on the regime to start the negotiations.” (Bloomberg, 02.28.17)
  • Russia has neither discussed Western sanctions imposed on Moscow with the Trump administration nor asked Washington to repeal them, Russian news agencies cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Feb. 28. But Ryabkov said it would be easier for Russia to work with the U.S. on the crisis in Syria if sanctions were lifted. (Reuters, 02.28.17)
  • Russia is getting impatient for U.S. President Donald Trump to make good on his promise to mount a joint fight against Islamic State, according to a senior defense official. “Enough talk about it,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said, referring to prospects of cooperation with the U.S. in Syria. Russian and U.S. defense officials at airbases in the Middle East “are exchanging information and this could be extended” to allow for joint operations, although “there’ve been no concrete steps so far,” Fomin said in an interview in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Feb. 28. Fomin’s comments are among the most direct expressions of frustration with the Trump administration from a senior Russian official. (Bloomberg, 02.28.17)
  • Talks on consolidating the Syrian ceasefire held in Kazakhstan this year helped jumpstart the United Nations-led peace negotiations in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 27. (Reuters, 02.27.17)
  • Russia hopes the Syrian opposition will form a joint delegation for the Geneva peace talks, RIA Novosti news agency reported on Feb. 27, citing Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. (Reuters, 02.27.17)
  • Jaish al-Islam, the main opposition group at Syrian peace talks in Geneva, wants to meet Russian envoys to discuss what it says are Moscow’s broken ceasefire promises, a move diplomats say aims to put pressure on the Russian-backed Syrian government delegation. (Reuters, 02.27.17)
  • Russia is pressing world powers to provide Syria with billions of dollars for reconstruction to bolster its faltering efforts to resolve the Arab state’s six-year conflict. (Financial Times, 02.23.17)
  • Syria’s state grain buyer has signed contracts with local traders for 1.2 million tons of Russian wheat, a government source said, in the country’s second attempt at a huge wheat deal since October as it tries to secure supplies of the food staple. (Reuters, 02.23.17)
  • The Kremlin has confirmed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Moscow on March 9-10 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other bilateral meetings. The talks would include a meeting of the high-level bilateral cooperation council that will include negotiations on the possible purchase by Turkey of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. Talks between Turkey and Russia for Ankara to procure S-400 missiles have “progressed significantly,” Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik said on Feb. 22. Isik also said that Turkey’s preference was to originally buy a NATO system, but that wasn’t possible. (RFE/RL, 02.24.17, Reuters, 02.22.17)
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