Was Surovikin as skilled as we thought he was in Syria?


It seems a fair question given the state of Russian military doings in Ukraine and the lack of any evidence to date that Surovikan is going to improve the situation for his side.

In Syria the Russian intervention greatly improved the situation through training, advice, air support and the assistance of what the Russians call “Military Police,” but was he as instrumental in the SAG’s gains as we thought or were commanders like MG Suheil (above) more deserving of credit tha we thought at the time?

For example – after the completion of the re-capture of the western half of Aleppo from the jihadis in 2017 there was a choice to be made. Would the available forces be used to recover Idlib Province to the west of Aleppo while the jihadis and their Turkish supporters were as yet disorganized from their defeat at Aleppo or would the Syrian forces attack east from the city to recover the electric works other utilities and an airfield out in that direction.

My opinion at the time was and still is that if Idlib was not quickly returned to government control it would become a cancer rotting perpetually in the side of SAG control. That opinion was reflected in the conclusion of the SST wargame, “Borders of Hatay.” IMO I have been vindicated in that belief.

But the main question here is the degree to which Surovikin played a role in what IMO was a bad decision. pl

Sergey Surovikin – Wikipedia

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10 Responses to Was Surovikin as skilled as we thought he was in Syria?

  1. d74 says:

    I have not followed the events in the Idlib area precisely. So I could be wrong.

    But I know that this area has been used as a concentration point for the head-choppers. The reconciliation offices (run by Russians) sent them there as they surrendered. (Either Idlib, or give up weapons and return to the national community if Syrians).
    It seemed to me that this was a good decision: on the one hand they were extirpated from the Syrian populations they were terrorizing, on the other hand it made their elimination easier.
    Beautiful work wasted by the Turks who wanted to control this border zone. This area goes far beyond the 20-30 km limit that they have assumed the right to control on borders in Syrian territory.

    Neither the Russians nor the Syrians could go to Idlib. That would have been to deny themselves. And then, the concentrated well armed head-choppers and the Turks, that’s a lot.

  2. TTG says:

    Surovikin was in Syria from mid-2016 to mid-2017. It looks like his biggest contribution was a massive increase in the application of Russian airpower. That’s probably why he was given the Aerospace Forces after that. We can see that now in the current air campaign in Ukraine. Unfortunately for him, Russian Aerospace Forces and missile forces were frittered away in the preceding eight months. Plus the Ukrainian Air Force and air defense forces have proven far more formidable that anything ISIS could muster. Unless the West steps up the supply of A2/AD assets to Ukraine, Surovikin’s air campaign will continue to be brutal.

    Don’t know if he had real control over Assad’s direction of the ground campaign. I do remember that once they took Aleppo, ISIS came storming back closer to Damascus retaking Palmyra and beyond. Suheil’s boys were pulled to address that threat.

  3. JK/AR says:

    I may perhaps be incorrect in my memory but, as I recall “we” had interests in Syria too?

    Lemme see …


    (As it happens I’m intimately *familiar with the aftermath of the Christmas 2011 hack of that company – NFCU first, then a alphabet contacted me asking if I’d recently been in Oman the answer to which was “No” But it nevertheless got interesting-er past there to the point my name showed up in some WikiLeaks stuff which took some effort to clear up. Not a particularly enjoyable few months of my life.)

    But at any rate TTG – As I recall “we” had something of an aim in Syria too.

    Have you heard how that aim panned out?

    A review of CTC’s Sinjar Papers might be worthwhile.

    • Pat Lang says:

      So what? I am talking about the Russian effort in Syria. We stupidly have adopted an anti-SAG position throughout.

    • TTG says:


      As Colonel Lang said, our continued fixation on “anyone but Assad” is stupid, as was our belief in the fantasy of good jihadis. However, our early support of the Rojava Kurds in their fight against ISIS is something I’m still proud of. But we shouldn’t be continuing to encourage them to remain independent of Damascus. Both Ankara and Damascus will never allow that.

  4. Leith says:

    During Surovikin’s time in Syria his results are mixed. I’m assuming he was there during the retaking of Eastern Aleppo and provided air support for that offensive. But in my mind the key to that offensive was the Tiger Forces breaking the jihadi hold on Castello Road. And later the heavy fighting in Aleppo itself was done by Hezbollah supported by Republican Guard tanks, plus some assistance by Kurdish YPG from the Sheikh Massoud neighborhood.

    In early 2017 Surovikin provided air and spetsnaz support to retake Palmyra from the daesh, but it was under his watch that it was lost to ISIS just a few months earlier.

    Was he still there in late 2017 when the SAA broke the siege of Deir ez-Zor? Maybe, but again the credit for that goes to Suheil al-Hassan’s spearheading Tiger Forces, plus Hez and other PMFs backed up by Republican Guard armor. Russian help in planning for that offensive certainly was critical, but IMO more likely that was done by General Azapov and his staff who were on the scene and not by Surovikin.

    You are right on about Idlib. Surovikin should have taken measures to surgically remove that cancer. Instead he (or his bosses) chose to let it fester, and the Russian Air Force strikes in Idlib were aimed more at civilians than jihadis. Unlike the US strikes on Idlib that had better intel on the ground and took out al-Qaeda targets deep in Idlib with PGMs.

  5. Lars says:

    I am reminded of the old adage that generals are good at fighting last wars. I think the current crop needs to watch out for being the latest excuses for losing. It appears that each armed conflict has its unique circumstances and who ever adapts the best will have an advantage. From reports that I have seen, that is not the current crop of draftees who are ill suited for the task at and then are also ill equipped, less than trained and not all that motivated. Given all that, it probably does not matter who the general is, especially since it appears that he will face a lot of micro management from the civilian top too.

    • Pat Lang says:

      The problem is that old generals pick new people for promotion who mirror image themselves.

      • Lars says:

        Well, that explains a lot. I have been told that for reaching the top of the chain of command, it is all about politics and not necessarily about creative thinking.

  6. Wunduk says:

    Seth Jones, Brian Katz and Keith Harrington noted already in 2020 that the SAR/Iran/Russian campaign benefited immensely from a fractured opposition, in which frequently constituent elements attacked each other. The most recent infighting in North-West Syria is just an illustration of this ongoing blessing. See https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/Jones_MoscowsWarinSyria_WEB_update.pdf?J1rQM6.th1g6DA034fNCT_DmxTFYpJPx

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