Politically, Russian military intervention in Syria is a milestone for international politics, comparable in importance to the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbass. If Ukraine showed Russia's readiness to confront the West and use force to protect its interests, then in Syria Russia first intervened in a military conflict outside the former USSR in order to support an ally. Russia has demonstrated significant ability to effectively project forces into other parts of the world and a new level of combat capabilities of its Aerospace and Naval forces fleet.
CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES
Russia's entry into the war is associated with a complex set of reasons, only some of which are related to Syria. First of all, the concern of the Russian leadership was caused by a series of failures that befell the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the summer of 2015. From the Russian point of view, the collapse of the ruling Syrian regime means conducting ethnic cleansing against Syrian ethnic and religious minorities and transferring the entire territory of the country under the control of the Islamic State terrorist group banned in Russia and other radical Sunni groups, the difference between which from the Russian point of view , really insignificant.
All of these groups are hostile to Russia to one degree or another, and many of them include militants from the countries of the former Soviet Union who are aimed at continuing jihad in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Islamic state has already intensified in Afghanistan, where the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has moved to its side, and has demonstrated impressive ability to penetrate the security forces of the Central Asian states (switching to the IG commander of the Tajik riot police Gulmurod Khalimov). The fall of Assad and the victory of the IG and the groups close to it ideologically, in addition to weakening Russia's position in the Middle East, thus carried immediate threats to its security.
Russian fears were reinforced by the return of the threat of Western countries introducing "no-fly zones" over part of Syrian territory in order to support the opposition forces. Libyan experience shows that the “no-fly zones” entered by the United States and its allies under “humanitarian” justifications inevitably develop into full-fledged air campaigns for the direct support of rebel forces. Judging by the recently published data, the decision on Western military intervention in Syria was almost agreed and disrupted at the last moment by the deployment of Russian troops in Syria.
It seems that the Russian military campaign in Syria, conducted in close coordination with Iran, has the following main objectives:
- elimination of the threat of military intervention by the West and its allies in the Syrian conflict. This task has already been solved by the fact of deployment of the Russian troops and the start of the operation;
- stabilization and strengthening of the martial law of the regime of Bashar al-Assad by eliminating the most dangerous enclaves controlled by the opposition in the rear of his army and entering more successful frontiers for defense;
- exerting limited military pressure on the IS forces in order to force it to concentrate financial and personnel resources on self-defense. This may lead to a reduction in IG activity in Central Asia;
- to the extent possible - targeted destruction from the air of groups of foreign fighters, primarily from the CIS countries as one of the most combat-ready components of the Islamist forces, representing an immediate danger to the security of Russia itself.
If these tasks are successfully accomplished, the threats of defeat of the forces of the Syrian regime will be eliminated for the foreseeable future, and the prospect of delaying the war for many years with an uncertain outcome will arise. Such a prospect is unacceptable for those who support the moderate Islamist opposition of Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are already confronted with a constant increase in internal instability against the background of the war. This perspective is even less acceptable for the European Union, suffering from the influx of refugees, and the United States, forced to respond to the fears of its allies and partners.
Consequently, conditions arise for the commencement of negotiations on the termination of the military conflict and the post-war structure of Syria, as well as on subsequent joint actions to defeat the "Islamic State". These negotiations are likely to take place in the form of a discussion of those or other variants of the federalization of Syria with the gradual departure of Bashar al-Assad from power.
Obviously, with such a discussion, the positions of Russia and Iran are very strong, simply due to the fact that they will have the only effective military force on their side, in principle, capable of conducting offensive operations against the forces of the IG and Al-Qaeda in the Syrian theater of operations. Thus, the main objectives of the Russian campaign will be achieved: ensuring a satisfactory post-war Syria for Russia and reducing threats from local Sunni radicals for Russia.
NEW LEVEL WAR
The secondary goal is obviously the acquisition by Russia of new opportunities in the dialogue with the United States. The resumption of Russian-US summit contacts at the session of the UN General Assembly in New York, as well as the beginning of interaction between the military departments and special services of the two countries also shows that this goal can be achieved.
During the campaign, new technologies for the Russian Ministry of Defense were demonstrated, such as demonstration of video shots of air strikes and rocket launches, detailed television reports from Russian military bases, a high degree of involvement of social networks. Such a scale of propaganda should not, however, detract from the fact that the Russian air campaign is conducted by a small in size air group with very modest activity indicators. In Latakia there are only 30 attack aircraft (12 Su-24M, 12 Su-25 and six Su-34, except for them four Su-30СМ solve the tasks of air defense) of the Aerospace Forces. In the first six days of the operation (from September 30 to October 5), they carried out 120 attack combat missions, striking 51 targets.
Air force and aviation The US Navy and its allies during the Inherent Resolve operation against IS forces in Iraq and Syria during the period from June 14, 2014 to September 29, 2015 made 56 sorties (though including those providing for) and delivered 819 strikes (including 7162 strikes in Syria). And it cannot be said that this radically affected the actions of the ISIS forces, not to mention the crushing of the Caliphate. At the same time, the Western coalition used almost exclusively high-precision aviation weapon (while the Russian group also makes extensive use of the old unguided aerial bombs), it has much more effective means of reconnaissance, targeting and targeting (it suffices to mention the massive use of corresponding aircraft outboard containers that are completely absent in the Russian Aerospace Force) and, in general, has much more continuous - 25-year experience of deploying and conducting combat operations in the region with well-adjusted mechanisms of interaction and combat use of the Air Force.
From the point of view of the impact on the actual military potential of the IG, the advantages of Russia are access to probably very significant data of intelligence intelligence conducted by the special services of Bashar al-Assad. In addition, at least part of the attacks, apparently, is applied specifically to militant groups originating from Central Asia or the North Caucasus with the aim of their destruction. The influence of the Russian air campaign on the forces of the IS itself is mainly political and moral, with a limited military effect. At the same time, the actions of the Russian Aerospace Forces can have a much more significant operational impact on the situation on the front of the struggle of the CAA with other rebel groups - both “moderate”, supported by the West, and radical Islamist ones like “Nusra”.
OPPOSITION EXPANDS FORCES
“Pedestrian by the way of flight” is a method of working out actions on the ground during the upcoming combat sortie. Photos from the official website of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Russian intervention in Syria fell on a period of some stabilization of the situation for the Assad forces. It is significant that the Russian side did not go for intervention in July - early August 2015, when the CAA suffered significant defeats from the enemy forces (first of all - the radical Islamists). By September, Assad was able to restore the integrity of the front, and the offensive impulse of the Islamists was exhausted. To date, the Assad forces have been able to accumulate a certain amount of reserves, including the transfer of Iranian units to Syria and massive supplies of Iranian and Russian weapons. This led to the beginning of the recently announced large-scale offensive by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA - Ground Forces of the Syrian Armed Forces). It is the success of this offensive, and not the number of facilities hit by the Russian air force, that will determine the overall success of the Russian strategy.
The main problem for the pro-Assad forces is the presence of large Islamist enclaves (primarily in Homs and Rastan) in the territories they control, which are dragging off large forces of the CAA. This is mainly about the forces of the Army of Conquest coalition, supported by the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Turkey and includes, among other things, the local Al-Qaida branch, known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
The primary task of the Assad is to eliminate these enclaves. As far as can be judged, a significant part of the strikes of Russian aviation is now aimed at assisting in the fight against these enclaves. In the event of the elimination of these enclaves, the subsequent tasks for the Assad forces will be a complete sweep of the areas around Aleppo, stabilization of the situation in southern Syria and, in a desirable perspective, repulse Palmyra from IG as an important communications hub, which will allow the IS to be dropped into the Syrian desert. The implementation of these tasks will lead to a significant improvement in the military-political situation of the Al-Assad regime and, in effect, remove the question of the survival of his regime from the agenda.
At the same time, opposition forces (both moderate and Islamic) also continue to increase their potential. There is pumping of moderate opposition from the United States and its allies with weapons, and Russian intervention in Syria seems to only intensify this process. In December-January, it can be expected that all kinds of opposition forces will carry out a large-scale offensive in the main key areas. Reflecting this offensive will be an important task for both the CAA and the Russian air force. The very existence of a Russian grouping can become a serious factor in delaying the opposition’s offensive - for example, until January, which is beneficial to government forces. From February to April in Syria there comes a period of Hamsim (sandstorms), which practically excludes the active actions of the parties.
Thus, if the scenario for the Dominican Republic, Tehran and Moscow is optimistic for the spring of 2016, a situation may arise in which preconditions will arise for negotiations on the possible future of Syria with the participation of the Assad regime, the “moderate” opposition and their sponsors on both sides, as well as perhaps a moderate part of the Islamists. Following this, the question of the organization of joint action against the "Islamic state" will arise.
Although the US is currently planning to intensify the fight against IS, right up to the prospects for an attack on the capital of IS Raqqu in Syria by Kurds and moderate opposition, the chances of success of this enterprise look very low. The key weakness of the United States is the lack of any significant pro-American ground forces that would be at least militarily effective and politically loyal. The systematic failures of the United States in attempts at military construction in other countries (for example, Afghanistan) force us to speak about the existence of fundamental, institutional problems.
SHOCK HALIFAT IS POSSIBLE ONLY TOGETHER
In our opinion, the rapid and decisive defeat of the Caliphate is possible only through large-scale military intervention by Western land forces led by the United States. However, such an operation is impossible due primarily to the internal political situation in the US and the EU. The alternative is a long land campaign that will be conducted against the IS on several fronts simultaneously, using the Iraqi regular army, various Iraqi militias, Iranian forces, Assad army, Kurds, and possibly moderate Islamists from Syria. In such a motley coalition, the Assad army, reinforced by Russian air support and Russian weapons, is becoming the main force, which gives Moscow and Tehran additional trump cards in the negotiations.
At the same time, in the coming months, when Moscow’s main military efforts will be directed against Islamist groups belonging to the Army of Conquest, and to liquidate the enclaves, the prospect of worsening relations between Russia and Iran on the one hand and Turkey, the Persian Gulf monarchies and other. In light of this, the worst scenario for the Russian side (but rather realistic) is the inability of the Assad forces to radically improve the situation, even with the support of Russian aviation. In such a situation, further growth of tension between Russia and the West cannot be ruled out, yet the attempts of the US and its allies to introduce “no-fly zones” over part of Syria to protect the opposition and increase military tensions between Russia and NATO.
Even more unfavorable developments can be Moscow’s desire to raise the stakes radically or try to achieve a quick break in the Syrian conflict by sending ground troops to Syria. This threatens Russia into a hopeless "alien" war without the possibility of winning, with further aggravation of relations with Western countries and with the desire of the latter to "exsanguinate" Russian forces in Syria and through massive support of the Syrian opposition and Islamists according to the "Afghan scenario." Judging by the statements of Russian leaders, this threat is fully recognized by the Russian leadership and the participation of the Russian regular army in ground combat operations is ruled out.
Evaluating the Russian military intervention in Syria, one should compare the risks of actions taken with the risks of inaction. Both are very high. Inaction with a high probability meant the defeat of Assad, followed by massacre of groups supporting his population, the separation of control over the country between the "Islamic State" and the Army of conquest, followed by a war between them and the likely victory of the first, as a monolithic, better organized structure. At the same time, the United States would most likely not be able to effectively influence the situation in the country due to the lack of opportunities for land operations. And the military capabilities of the Gulf monarchies, as shown by the military conflict in Yemen, are very low, regardless of the number of modern weapons purchased by them. The result would probably be a new stage of expansion of the IG with a corresponding increase in its capacity to conduct operations in geographically remote regions of the world.