ISW Warning on Russian Reinforcement in Syria

Damascus Map 03 NOV 2016-01

"Russia intends to escalate its military operations in Aleppo City and Damascus within the coming days in order to demonstrate its force projection capabilities and bolster flagging public appeal for its involvement in the conflict. Russia deployed its lone aircraft carrier – the Admiral Kuznetsov – to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on or around October 17. The Kuznetsov is also carrying a contingent of Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB fighter jets that Russian sources claim are equipped with precision-guided munitions, as well as Ka-52 attack helicopters armed with long-range anti-tank guided missiles.[i] The Kuznetsov is escorted by a battle group that includes as many as three submarines likely equipped with Kalibr long-range cruise missiles. The Kuznetsov reached the Mediterranean Sea on November 1 and is expected to arrive off the Syrian Coast in the coming days, where it will be joined by an additional frigate armed with Kalibr cruise missiles from the Black Sea Fleet.[ii] Once the battle group arrives, it will likely not remain idle. Russia will likely use these new assets to support pro-regime ground operations in Aleppo City or Damascus in an attempt to improve domestic support for its military intervention in the Syrian Civil War through a showcase of its naval and air capabilities. A recent poll by the Levada Center indicated that support for the intervention has begun to slip since 2015.[iii] Russians now doubt the Syrian Civil War as a route to improving Russia’s international image or finding common ground with the West.[iv] Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely attempt to reinvigorate these sentiments through a high-profile demonstration of military might and effectiveness."  ISW


ISW is, of course, a Kaganesque neocon think tank, but some of their work is pretty good.

It is not at all clear to me that Russian public support for the expeditionary effort in Syria is flagging.  Is it?

Russian air operations in Syria have been largely suspended the last couple of weeks.  One explanatory theory is that Putin is being careful to not provide propaganda points to the Clinton campaign in the form of civilian casualties just before the US election.

Additional aerial firepower will be useful to the Russian command in Syria but I remain convinced that the R+6 ground troop strength is too small for achieving a decisive result in the western Syria region that is likely to become the de facto area of Syrian government control.

The evolving and emerging Russian Army does not have a lot of recent combat experience and little at all in expeditionary operation and logistics.  I continue to think that a force of two MRD equivalents made up of volunteers would be advisable as reinforcements in Syria.  pl

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35 Responses to ISW Warning on Russian Reinforcement in Syria

  1. aleksandar says:

    LEVADA CENTER POLL 31/10/2016
    What is your attitude toward Air Force RUSSIAN air strike in Syria?
    October 2016
    Positive :16
    Rather positive:36
    Total : 52
    Rather negative : 20
    total: 26
    No answers: 23
    November 2015
    Rather positive:34
    Total : 55
    Rather negative:19
    total: 19
    No answers :23
    Sorry for ISW, not a big change….and you have to add the average 3% error margin.

  2. aleksandar says:

    Sorry, last figure for nov 2015 ” no answers ” is 19 %

  3. OIFVet says:

    Minister calls on Turkish mothers to ‘change lullabies’ to emphasize Erdoğan’s ‘2071 aims’:
    This quote is quite something: “There is also a target that belongs to the youth: The year 2053 will be the 600th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. The youth will carry Turkey one step further in this year. We believe in they will plant our flag further”
    Eroglu did not specify likely locations where the star and crescent is to be planted, but the Turkish school maps that show neighbors’ territories as Turkish provinces are probably fairly good guide. Neo-Ottomanism, it really is a thing.

  4. sillybill says:

    ISW, they make good maps, they amass facts and keep track of trends and movements on the ground, but let’s look at the conclusions:
    “The Russian escalation… will accelerate the radicalization of the opposition. Russian strikes… will target acceptable opposition groups… to eliminate legitimate alternatives to the Assad regime… In the absence of better options, acceptable opposition groups will increasingly cleave to extremist factions for self-preservation… Russia’s support to the Assad regime continues to remove potential partners for the U.S. against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria from the battlefield. The U.S. must therefore be willing to counter the support that Russia is currently providing to the Assad regime in order to achieve its national security objective in Syria.
    I wonder how they think Russia’s support can be countered safely.

  5. Lemur says:

    Closing down those rebel holdouts around Damascus must free up extra troops.
    The US election will provide great cover for a major Aleppo push.

  6. Fred says:

    “Russia intends to escalate its military operations in Aleppo City and Damascus within the coming days in order to demonstrate its force projection capabilities and bolster flagging public appeal for its involvement in the conflict.”
    My key take away is they are going to try and destroy ISIS forces in and near Aleppo in order to win the war.
    “In the absence of better options, acceptable opposition groups will increasingly cleave to extremist factions for self-preservation in the face of concerted pro-regime advances enabled by the Russian air campaign. Russia’s support to the Assad regime continues to remove potential partners for the U.S. against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria from the battlefield.”
    Are these people serious? Who are these opposition groups acceptable too other than ISIS and perhaps Saudi Arabia? “Partners for the US”? We’re going to partner with people who are using civilians in Aleppo as human shields? Or do the authors believe they only do that in Mosul?

  7. Ghostship says:

    Some American think tanks do have a severe case of psychological project – whenever I hear them accuse a country of doing something, I’m pretty certain that it’s something the United States is doing already. For example, as soon as the USG started cautioning the Europeans from buying Chinese networking kit because of the backdoors, it was pretty obvious that the US had been there and done that. Snowden’s leaks just provided confirmation.
    In this case, they’re projecting the way the USN does things on the Russians so they see the aircraft carrier for force projection instead of fleet air defence (see South Front) and cruise missiles for land attack.
    As for the Russians, why waste money on very expensive cruise missiles when you can use artillery or aerial bombardment just as effectively. They’ve already demonstrated the capabilities of the latest Kalibr cruise missiles to anyone who’s interested. Instead, I strongly suspect those subs are equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship and anti-sub variants of the Kalbr missiles rather than the land-attack variant. Same with the other surface ships that off Syria, although I did read somewhere, that the latest Russian frigates and corvettes can be networked with their larger air defence ships so that they can act as SAM monitors when part of the fleet, so they’ll probably also carry SAMs. And if they do need to use Kalibr cruise missiles in the coming days, they’ll come courtesy of the Caspian Sea Flotilla as last time I checked neither the USN nor the RN can operate there. The Russians have just layered up their naval defences off Syria so that they can deliver a considerable tonnage of shit on the heads of anyone who is stupid enough to interfere in the coming days. I suspect even Boris Johnson has got the message, well at least I hope he has.

  8. bemildred says:

    I agree, I think Putin is making it clear that he intends to defend his assets in Syria, and that meddling will get expensive.

  9. johnf says:

    I am posting this bad news on both this and the current Election thread as it is relevant to both. It seems to have been a mistake – at any rate that’s the official line – but it could impact the Election:
    “Three members of US military killed in Jordan army base shooting”

  10. Brunswick says:

    Not long ago, the Borg publicised one option for “imposing” a so called “No Fly” zone, over Syria, with minimal “costs and casualties”, ( US of course).
    While the Russian/Syrian AD/A2 capabilities in Syria are rubust and multilayered, they are small.
    The Borgist Option was a massed strike of cruise missiles against the Russian/Syrian airdefences, with a small USAF SEAD to destroy the few assets that survived.
    Shortly after the publication of that “option”, Russia deployed the S-300VM anti-cruise missile variant to Syria, and announced that the Kuznetsov would be heading to Syria.
    IMHO, the Kuznetsov is not the “important” ship in the fleet, as the Battlecruiser and Destroyer’s accompanying her, have robust, long range airdefences, capable of defending against cruise missile strikes, and the ships and subs have the ability to quickly return the favor.

  11. BabelFish says:

    A little snark. Did they send people to North Korea for training on stuff like patriotic lullabies? Sultan Tayip will now be referred to as the Dear Leader.

  12. turcopolier says:

    “Battle Cruiser?” Really. I thought the last of those wa HMS Repulse sunk in the Java Sea in 1942. pl

  13. Brunswick says:

    Peter the Great/, Pyotr Velikily is classed as a “battle cruiser”.
    >>. The Russian designation for the type is “heavy missile cruiser”, but Western defense commentators re-invented the term “battlecruiser” to describe these as they are the largest surface combatant warships in the world. Pyotr Velikiy is the flagship of the Northern Fleet.<< More information is given under the Class type wiki:

  14. Tigermoth says:

    You are not far off on the anti-ship missiles:
    “What can the Russian naval task force in Syria really do?
    Before looking at the bigger picture, there is one detail which I think deserves to be mentioned here. Just about every article I read about the Granit cruise missile says that it is an anti-ship cruise missile. I also wrote that above in order to keep things simple. But now I have to say that the Granit probably always had a “B” mode, “B” as in “beregovoy” or, if you prefer, “coastal” or “land” mode. I don’t now whether this mode existed from day 1 or whether it was added later, but it is now certain that the Granit has had such a mode. It was probably a fairly minimalistic capability, without fancy guidance and other tricks (which the Granit has in its main anti-ship mode), but the Russians have recently revealed that the upgraded Granits now have a *real* (“complex”) land attack capability. And that requires a totally new look at what that means for this task force. This is what we know about the new and improved Granit (which the Russians refer to as 3M45):
    Mass: 7 tons
    Speed: Mach 1,5-2
    Range: 500-600km
    Warhead: 750kg (conventional and nuclear capable)
    The Granit is also capable of some very advanced things, including having one missile flying at 500m or higher to detect the target and the rest of them skimming the surface while receiving the data from the high-flying one. These missiles are also capable of automatically attacking from different directions to better overwhelm air defenses. They can fly as low as 25m and as high as 17’000m. What this all means is that these Granits missiles are very capable tactical-operational range missiles of their own right. And considering that there are at the very least 32 such missiles in the Russian task force (46 if a Oscar-II class sub is also present), that means that this task force has a tactical missile firepower similar to an entire rocket brigade! Should things go very wrong, this task force could not only seriously threaten any USN/NATO surface ship withing 500km of Syria, but also every single city or military base in this range. I am rather surprised that the western fear-mongers missed this one because it ought to scare NATO pretty badly 🙂
    To be honest here, some specialists are expressing big doubts about the land-attack capabilities of the Granit. Everybody knows that these are relatively old and very expensive missiles, but nobody knows how much effort was really put in their modernization. But even if they are not nearly as capable as advertised, the fact that 32 to 46 of such missiles we be sitting just off the Syrian coast will be a formidable deterrent because nobody will never know what these missiles can do until they really do it.”

  15. Tigermoth says:

    From what I have been able to work out, the new arrivals to the Syrian coast will be:
    1 Heavy Aircraft Carrying Missile Cruiser
    1 Heavy Nuclear Rocket Cruiser
    2 Large Anti-submarine Ships (destroyers)
    2 Corvettes
    3 Submarines (that we know about)
    1 Frigate
    These are in addition to what is already there:
    “Currently, the Russian naval group in the eastern Mediterranean includes at least six warships and three or four support vessels from all fleets. To increase the combat capabilities of the group, [we] plan to include the cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov into its ranks,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at the time.”

  16. Tigermoth says:

    This is an excellent interview covering many geopolitical topics by
    “Boyan Chukov, former adviser on Foreign Policy and National Security in two governments of the Republic of Bulgaria, former diplomat in Paris and Madrid, foreign intelligence officer.”
    “Q: The US may have instructors, but they are not officially there with their own army, although on the field there are probably some private mercenaries. So who is actually fighting in this proxy war?
    BC: The very atmosphere around the city is not very clear. The coalition, which is supposed to liberate Mosul, began to fall apart for irrational reasons. The Assyrian militia (99% Christians) took several populated places where they primarily live, during their advance towards the city. The Assyrians then stopped their forward movement. The Assyrians have no more motivation to continue, as they took the places that interest them. The Assyrian fighters showed the maximum combat capability. It turned out that they are the best fighters. It is they who paved the way for the 9th Armored Division of the Iraqi army toward Mosul.
    Besides that, Baghdad and Ankara came into conflict. When the Turks confirmed that their troops are attacking Mosul from the north, a sharp reaction followed from the Iraqis. Baghdad said that Turkey can not wage war on the territory of a sovereign Iraq. Ashton Carter, with his revelations about the offensive against Rakka, caused a sharp reaction from Ankara. The reaction was immediate. ”
    “Q: Since Turkey largely complies with Russia and the US, is there ever an opportunity for its own moves?
    BC: I think that the analysis of Turkish foreign policy should always bear in mind that our southeastern neighbor moves in its desired direction. Turkey is “armed” with the ideology of neo-Ottomanism. It varies between moderate and radical Islamization in the confessional plan. If Recep Erdogan came out of this framework, he ​​will be removed from those forces in Turkey who gave him power in the country. As the French say, the Turkish President does not cause neither the “rain or nice weather” in Ankara. His demonization is a matter of information-psychological war, led by his opponents who are unhappy with the too autonomous conduct of Ankara within NATO. To demonize Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and to not see the ruling clique in Riyadh is supreme hypocrisy and cynicism. This indicates only a certain geopolitical preferences. Nothing more.
    Recep Tayyip Erdogan is looking near Mosul, to position Ankara around the oil fields in the area. He wants to position Turkey there, before Iraq fragments into individual new state or quasi-state formations. In Turkey came out a map, on which part of Iraqi territory is included within the Turkish state. Mosul, Kirkuk and other smaller Iraqi cities. Is this the “big Neo-Ottoman heart” or a pragmatic and aggressive Turkish foreign policy is a matter of preference. The essence is the same.”
    This ethnic map of Mosul gives some context to the first question:

  17. PeterHug says:

    Wikipedia does not agree…
    “In May 2016 the Pyotr Velikiy put to sea for the first time in two years for drills off the coast of Northern Russia. On October the 15th the Pyotr Velikiy left Severomorsk to escort the Heavy Aircraft Carrying Cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov to the Mediterranean along with supply ships and two Udaloy class destroyers, the Severomorsk and the Vice-Admiral Kulakov. Pyotr Velikiy passed through the English Channel, along with the rest of the Russian Northern Fleet on 21 October, shadowed by the British destroyer HMS Dragon.”

  18. AK says:

    I find the phrase “national security objective in Syria” to be a telling microcosm of the cognitive dissonance in the Borgist FP establishment.

  19. BabelFish says:

    The US Navy recommissioned the Iowa class battleships as a partial offset to these ships. Powerful and heavily weaponed.

  20. Henshaw says:

    Yes! blame those beastly Russians! As you say, ISW’s maps and data are good, but they are used to provide a gloss of credibility to run-of-the-mill neocon conclusions.
    ‘… accelerate the radicalisation…’? ISW are misrepresenting the situation- they are about four years behind the times. And blaming the Russians (who didn’t arrive until late 2015) for a long-term situation that is essentially a function of market forces. From the outset, the groups fighting on the ground adapted their behavior and religious stances to better compete for the funds offered by the Gulfy fundamentalists.
    Like AK, I look forward to ISW explaining their mealy-mouthed conclusion, and particularly to ISW clarifying what they think USA’s ‘national security objective in Syria’ really is.

  21. Bandolero says:

    “In the absence of better options, acceptable opposition groups will increasingly cleave to extremist factions for self-preservation… Russia’s support to the Assad regime continues to remove potential partners for the U.S. against ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria from the battlefield.”
    I always wondered why there is no serious push back against that argument often pushed by the Borg. My translation of that argument would be: the moderate Syrian opposition the U.S. supports is so moderate, that if things don’t go their way they’ll all become Al Qaeda. So I think that Borg argument for more support for the moderate armed copposition should in reality taken as a strong argument against any support for the moderate armed copposition. As the Borg say themselves, if things don’t go their way, all that support ends up in the hands of Al Qaeda.

  22. Bandolero says:

    I note it doesn’t say in which nation’s “national security objective in Syria” it is. As the Borg usually see no difference between US and Israeli “national security objectives” I wonder whether they refer primarily to the latter.

  23. J says:

    Reports are Egyptian Officers arrived Nov 1 to learn from the Russian advisers embedded with Syrian Army, as part of Egypt’s expansion of ongoing military cooperation with Russia and Egypt.

  24. LeaNder says:

    This is an excellent interview …
    Highly mixed bag of “goods”. Some familiar narratives, in variation*. Leaves me over large passages with a crossed-eyed, trance-like state of mind. Familiar state of mind in the early post 9/11 universe, but I was never really too fond of it.
    * variation: go to passage four in the Wikipedia link below:

  25. FB Ali says:

    Reuters has a report on Russian volunteers fighting in Syria:

  26. Peter in Toronto says:

    Col. Lang, a young green beret recently spoke rather candidly about the FSA training program in Syria. You might find this interesting, especially since a lot of his opionions overlap with yours and the shared branch history.

  27. BraveNewWorld says:

    I have to wonder if the naval build up is aimed more at keeping Turkey in line than any thing else. For sure all hell is about to break loose in Aleppo and the floating force will certainly have a peace of that.
    But the big risk in the attack to free Aleppo and then push North East is the same as the risk with attack on Mosel. That Edogan finally acts on what his mouth has been saying for months. Russia has always had the ability to reach out and touch Turkey if it wanted to. But if they keep the fight strictly in Syria rather than an attack on Turkey it’s self it is less likely to spiral out of control and involve NATO. This might be just what is needed to keep all those tanks lined up on the border right where they are.

  28. Ghostship says:

    HMS Repulse was sunk off Malaya in December 1941 and HMS Renown survived the war and was scrapped just after.

  29. oofda says:

    My reading and watching of Russian media shows no flagging of public support for the Russian military intervention in Syria. I don’t know where ISW pulled that from. Perhaps talking to a few Russian ex-pats?

  30. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, this is a great link, Peter.
    It has the same ‘feel and touch’ some early statements by Pat that kept me here. Feels real, even to to this nitwit in military matters.

  31. mike allen says:

    FB Ali –
    Thanks for the link re Russian contractor units fighting in Syria. Shame on Reuters though for identifying family members of the deceased fighters. Let’s hope it does not cause those family members trouble from either Russian authorities or from right wing groups.

  32. Colonel,
    Is the use of encirclement, or “Cauldrons”, now evident in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria as it was in the Ukraine? Some ME sites might be indicating this.

  33. A. Deplorable says:

    First post here.
    The last big gun battlecruisers commissioned and sent in harm’s way were the USS Alaska, commissioned June 1944, and USS Guam. Both were decommissioned in 1947. The Hawaii was 84% complete when construction ended in 1947. Standard displacement was just shy of 30,000 tons. Main battery was nine 12-inch guns.

  34. Mishkilji says:

    This could be an indication of a Russian-Iranian struggle for influence in a post-conflict scenario.
    Iran and Russia will have different opinions on how to rebuild the Syrian military.
    We have all assumed that it is Russian airpower that has tilted the battlefield in Bashar’s favor. What if is not Russia but Iranian sponsored militias that have been decisive?

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