In the article “Behind Damascus - Moscow,” the author wrote about the urgent need for Russia to immediately start fighting in Syria on the side of Assad (at least in the form of an air operation) and assumed that Moscow would not dare. Fortunately, the last one was wrong. Moscow has made the most important and extremely necessary step. However, while this fact pluses are practically exhausted.
Already in the first days of the operation, it was safe to assume that 30 aircraft (6 Su-34, 12 Su-24 and Su-25 each) and 12 Mi-24 helicopters (4 Su-30 fighters solve airborne strike operations aviation) win the war is impossible. Now this is completely obvious. Although Russian pilots are fighting very intensively, they only managed to end the retreat of Assad’s troops on all fronts, which threatened to go into complete collapse in the coming months. The counter-offensive of the Syrian army with the support of Hezbollah and the Iranian IRGC contingent has so far yielded only very limited tactical successes. There is no question of any fundamental turning point, much less victory.
The military victory implies the return of the whole of Syria under the control of Assad. Of course, he bears a certain degree of responsibility for the fact that civil war broke out in his country in 2011, which became literally apocalyptic for her. However, these are Syrian problems, not ours. Moreover, now it is completely senseless to search for the guilty. Almost all of the current opposition to Assad are radical Sunni Islamists. The conflict between the “Caliphate” and “Al-Nusroy” (“Al-Qaeda”) is not even stylistic in nature, but purely competitive (for the right to be the “main terrorist”). Moreover, it is already quite obvious that the “caliphate” won, Al-Qaeda leads “rearguard battles”, more and more of its rank-and-file fighters go to a more successful rival, perhaps in the near future, the leadership of “Al-Nusra” recognizes the realities, the face of a common enemy. The “moderate pro-Western opposition” hardly defends a very limited territory, being the weakest of all the parties to the Syrian war listed above. The possibility that she will crush Assad and all Islamists is completely absent. Therefore, there can be three outcomes of the Syrian war: the country is finally and more or less forever divided into zones of influence (between the “Caliphate”, “Al-Nusroy” and, possibly, remnants of Assad's supporters and the Kurds), or it passes under the authority of the “Caliphate”, or Damascus with external assistance returns control over the entire territory (except, perhaps, the Kurdish regions). It is quite understandable that no matter how bad Assad may be, the latter is the only option favorable both for Syria itself and for Russia, the entire Middle East and Europe.
It is clear that our opponents are all opponents of Assad (except for the Kurds), and not only the “Caliphate”. Moreover, the configuration of the territories controlled by the parties in Syria is such that government forces can seriously deploy military operations against the "caliphate" only after the complete defeat of the rest of the opposition in the north-west and south-west of the country. Accordingly, it is first necessary to break the "Nusru", other Islamists and "moderate" and only then go to war with the "caliphate." Moreover, it requires the full-scale participation of the Armed Forces of Iran and the IRGC, which should launch an offensive against the Iraqi part of the “caliphate” from their territory. Otherwise, a victory in Syria, even if it is won, will be almost useless, the enemy will simply “leak” into Iraq.
At the moment, in this regard, Moscow is acting quite correctly, its Air Force strikes not only and not so much on the “caliphate” as on the “moderate” and “An-Nusra”. But with the forces involved, the problem. They need to be increased at times. Since in the next few years, no external aggression in its classic version definitely threatens us from any direction, we are able to use all combat-ready attack aircraft in the Middle East operation, and not only front-line (Su-34, Su-24, Su-25) , but also long-range (Tu-22М3 bombers). This will give an invaluable combat skill to the pilots (at the same time you can save on the Air Force exercises, for the best of them is war), and to headquarters the experience of organizing the transfer of significant forces to remote theater, deployment and rear support. The problem, of course, with the capacity of the Syrian airfield network - there are few runways, which are not threatened by an attack from the ground. But this issue needs to be addressed, use Iranian airfields. Most likely Tehran will not refuse.
Syrian Armed Forces today include up to 2000 tanks, up to 2500 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, a similar number of artillery systems, up to 300 combat aircraft, up to 30 attack helicopters. This seems to be a lot, but the real amount of combat-ready equipment can be several times smaller than the indicated values simply because it is very old (acquired back in the Soviet period, in the 70s and even 60s), and is now being operated extremely hard. The main thing is that Assad is critically short of people, and the existing ones are extremely exhausted (although they are very experienced and well motivated). Therefore, the offensive potential of the Syrian army can in no case be overestimated. Also limited are the capabilities of the Iranian IRGC and the Lebanese Hezbollah contingent transferred to Syria, these are almost exclusively fighters with light weapons and without equipment, and there are not too many of them.
Perhaps the Russian leadership in the current economic conditions does not want to bear too high costs for the war. Indeed, in the current version, the cost of the operation is small. Finance Minister Siluanov told the truth: they do not go beyond the already approved military budget. Therefore, fears that the Syrian operation "finally destroy Russia", at the moment completely unfounded. The only thing is that you cannot save on the army, and all the more so in war. This inevitably turns into much higher costs, as well as the sacrifices that we are now witnessing in the example of Ukraine. The Armed Forces perform the most important economic function - protecting the country, including all its economic agents, from damage in the event of external aggression. In particular, the arrival of the “Islamic Caliphate” in Russia (which is inevitable if it is not defeated in the Middle East) will result in damage to us several orders of magnitude greater than the cost of the current Syrian operation, even in a significantly expanded version. In order to understand this, special knowledge is not needed, so the lamentations about “the unnecessary costs of Syria, when we are full of internal problems,” to say the least, are surprising. Without this war, “internal problems” will become incomparably greater, and they will be more serious. However, very often in this case the moans are explained not by a lack of understanding of these elementary things, but by completely different motives that have nothing to do with Russia's interests. Therefore, if the Kremlin wants to save on the Syrian campaign, the result will be exactly the opposite.
Even more opposite, the result will be if Moscow’s goal is to knock out for Assad a small piece of power in Syria or even only part of its territory. Or if the goal is to strengthen our geopolitical position in the Middle East and in the world as a whole. Or if it is to somehow “exchange” Syria for Ukraine and the Crimea. If the goals are as follows, then none of them will be achieved, in all cases the result will be the opposite of the expected. Only in the event of a military victory, that is, the return of the power of Assad over the whole country, and not over its part, will it be possible to truly strengthen its geopolitical position, including in trade over Ukraine. The only alternative to victory is defeat, there are no intermediate options.
And it is quite surprising if the Kremlin, through Syria, wants to make friends with the West again, because "now we are also fighting terrorism." We may be fighting, but the West is not going to do this, and the Arabian monarchies and Turkey have been cultivating and cultivating this terrorism in general, and for many years now. After the start of the Russian operation in Syria, the chairman of the United States FSC, General Joseph Dunford, urgently arrived in Baghdad for the sole purpose of ensuring that the leadership of Iraq in no case appealed to Moscow for military assistance in the fight against the “caliphate”. A more vivid example of self-exposure in the sense of who the States actually consider to be an adversary can hardly be cited. The second self-disclosure was the attack by the “moderate opposition” on the Syrian capital of the “caliphate” - Raqqu announced by Washington: the US Air Force did not even try to provide it with air support. It is time to understand that the real struggle with the "caliphate" in the plans of Washington is not included. A remarkable statement after the start of our campaign in Syria was made by President Erdogan: Russia may lose such a friend as Turkey. That's really true - with such friends and enemies do not need. The Saudi lobby has become very active in Russia, which is now telling every day that Riyadh is our closest ally in the fight against international terrorism. That is, the creator, organizer and sponsor of terrorism is an ally in the fight against him. Just some kind of surrealism. In this regard, even more surrealism is Moscow’s diplomatic activity on building up an “antiterrorist coalition” from the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The same applies to the search for "moderate opposition" within Syria, which will be in the "coalition" to fight terrorists. Moscow offers to help overthrow Assad, who will now in any case be our closest ally, not only in the Middle East, but in the world as a whole? I really want to understand the meaning of this multifaceted absurdity. Of course, all wars end at the negotiating table, but you need to sit at it not at the beginning of the war, but when you can put opponents in front of the facts achieved on the battlefield.
Actually, there is nothing to talk about with Ankara and Riyadh. We need to negotiate with Washington only on a purely technical issue - to avoid conflicts between the air forces of the two countries in the skies of Syria and Iraq. The only opposition within Syria with which it is possible and necessary to come to an agreement is the Kurds, who in exchange for an alliance against the “caliphate” should receive the widest possible autonomy, no matter how Ankara is mad about this. Of course, if some part of the “moderate opposition” is ready to capitulate, that is, without any preconditions, to start fighting with the Assad troops and the Kurds against the “caliphate” is great. But only this kind of cooperation is acceptable, on our terms. The only uniquely necessary external ally is Iran, which is desirable to be prompted to act in Syria and Iraq even more actively. However, for this we ourselves will have to act much more actively, otherwise it is unlikely that we can persuade Tehran.
It is necessary to note one more very important thing: Russia has 14 months left when it can in fact do anything, for the pacifist Obama is in the White House. There is not the slightest irony here, according to American notions, Obama is an absolute pacifist, incapable of any decisive actions in his mental attitudes. Any next president of the United States will have a tighter position towards Moscow.
Separately, it must be said about the position of China. In the spring of last year, the Ukrainian Internet was filled with a wide variety of topics about how almost all ten American aircraft carriers, including those in long-term repair at shipyards, go to the Black Sea to save Square from the “Russian aggressors”. True, not a single aircraft carrier for some reason finally arrived there. In the autumn of this year, in the same way, domestic believers in the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership against the United States talked tirelessly about how a squadron led by the aircraft carrier Liaoning had already passed the Suez Canal to take part in the war for Assad. It is extremely symbolic that it was at that time aboard the Liaoning, which was by no means in the Mediterranean, but at its native shores, received a delegation of the US Navy with the aim of "showing sincerity towards its partners." Beijing is not going to quarrel with the United States and is in excellent, truly strategic allied relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. For us, he is in fact the same “ally” as this whole “holy trinity”.
Moscow should not be engaged in the creation of an antiterrorist coalition, but in building up the aviation group and the scale of the operation in Syria. Moreover, whatever the officials say about this now, you need to keep in mind the possibility of engaging their own Land Forces. Victory can only be achieved on earth - it is an axiom.
It is obvious that the first candidates for participation in the ground operation are special forces, airborne troops, marines and Chechen formations subordinated to Ramzan Kadyrov. They are the most mobile and well prepared. It is also possible to deploy artillery units in Syria (primarily MLRS). The total number of servicemen of these components of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation may be five to ten thousand. As for the tank and motorized rifle units, their transfer to the Middle East theater and rear support there will be more difficult (which, however, is not a reason for refusal). As far as it will be expedient, it is too early to speak. In any case, no “second Afghanistan” (there were at the same time up to 120 thousands of Soviet soldiers and officers fought at the same time) cannot be, all the talk on this subject is either propaganda or complete incompetence.
Of course, in no case should recruits take part in the hostilities in Syria (and, perhaps, Iraq), but for a contract soldier, refusing to participate in the operation should lead at least to immediate dismissal from the Armed Forces without any payments and without the right to contract, as a maximum - to criminal penalties for failure to comply with the order. In general, the idea that the army is a place where you can get good money should be knocked out of the heads of potential servicemen as quickly as possible. The army is a place where a soldier is obliged to die by order of the Motherland for its interests. That is what she pays good money for. Do not confuse cause and effect.
The desire to avoid losses and minimize the costs of the operation will inevitably lead to its tightening and ultimately to much greater losses and costs. There is no other way. Therefore, in the next month or two, the Russian leadership needs to determine the forms and scope of the expansion of the Syrian operation. The sooner this is done, the faster and more successfully it will be possible to end the war.