By Penza News
International observers continue to actively analyze the results of the Russian operation in the Syrian Arab Republic, which ended two weeks after the ceasefire agreement between the government and the opposition came into effect.
According to the report of the Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, in total Russian aviation group have carried out more than 9,000 flights.“In this time, as a result of the strikes, we were able to significantly hinder, and in some places completely stop resource support for terrorists by intercepting hydrocarbon trade, blocking the main routes for hydrocarbon supplies to Turkey and the main routes for weapons and ammunition deliveries to militants,” the Minister said.
According to Sergey Shoygu, over 2,000 criminals who have come from Russia have been eliminated in Syria’s territory, including 17 field commanders. With support from Russian air force, the Syrian troops liberated 400 towns and over 10,000 square kilometers of territory.
Moreover, the military successes of the Russian campaign helped create conditions for the intra-Syrian dialogue allowing to start a new round of peace talks and largely contributed to the ceasefire regime.
“The Syrian army has gained the strategic initiative and continues clearing its land of terrorists. The main thing is that we have created conditions for the start of a peaceful process. We have managed to achieve positive, constructive cooperation with the United States of America and a number of other countries, as well as with the responsible political forces within Syria that truly wish to stop the war and find the only possible political solution to the conflict,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the meeting in the Kremlin.
Furthermore, according to many analysts, Russia has managed not only not to be dragged into a long war but significantly strengthen its position in the Middle East and the international arena.
The German magazine Focus, citing a confidential NATO analytical report, said that the number of Russian combat aircraft in Syria is “clearly inferior in number” to the jets deployed by NATO, however more advanced combat aircraft and the high level of professionalism of the Russian military made them more effective.
According to the secret document, 40 Russian combat aircraft stationed at the Russian base in Latakia perform up to 75 sorties daily, each time delivering “accurate and efficient” air strikes against Islamic State (IS, Daesh in Arabic; banned in Russia), while NATO forces, which have 180 combat jets are able to hit only 20 targets per day.
“And while Western politicians regularly talk about Russian Air Force attacks on rebels and numerous victims among the civilian population, there is no mention of civilians affected by Russian airstrikes in the report,” the article says.
Commenting on the situation in the region, Andrey Baklitsky, Middle East expert, Director of the Russia and Nuclear Nonproliferation Program at the Moscow-based PIR Center think tank, noted that Russia did not leave Syria but stopped that large operation, many goals of which were achieved.
“Prior to the Russian intervention there was an opinion that the Syrian problem can be solved by military means – bringing Bashar Assad down and redrawing the map of Syria. Regional powers such as Turkey and [Persian] Gulf countries were directly involved into it. However, Russian campaign has shown that it won’t be possible to resolve the conflict in such a way, and that Russia is ready to help the country’s government to stay in power. When the rest of the opposition agreed with this point of view, there appeared conditions for a truce, which was announced and is still in force in Syria,” the analyst told PenzaNews.
According to him, Moscow decided to withdraw a significant part of its air group not to disturb the negotiation process.
“It might also be done to motivate the Syrian government, showing that the president also will not be able to solve the problem by military means and will have to negotiate,” the expert said, noting that the settlement of the situation in the country is only possible if a compromise is reached.
“Seeing Bashar Assad in power in Syria is not a fundamental concern for Russia. Moscow wants to see effective government in Syria, which is able to prevent the continuation of the civil war and what we now see in Libya. Russia is also interested in Syrians – whether that be the government of Bashar Assad or the opposition – fighting against IS and winning it at least in the territory of their own country,” Andrey Baklitsky added.
Meanwhile, the progress of the negotiations is difficult to predict, he believes.
“However, if Russia and the US will emphasize their importance, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other countries will not interfere with this process, the parties who understand that their resources are limited, and the war has been going on for many years, may try to reach a compromise,” the PIR Center analyst said.
In turn, Margarete Klein, Deputy Head of Eastern Europe and Eurasia Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, named several possible reasons for withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.
“It is driven by the wish to secure gains and avoid further costs of being drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, the partial withdrawal is a clear signal to Bashar Assad to stop dreaming of a military victory in the conflict and increases pressure on the opposition, too. Besides, the announcement to withdraw troops is a signal to the domestic audience in Russia that its leadership is not engaging in foreign policy adventures but driven by specific interests,” the expert said.
In her opinion, the most important results of the Russian operation was the fact that it brought Assad out of the defensive and assisted him in gaining ground against the rebels.
“This changed the negotiation position to the benefit of Bashar Assad and Russia. Furthermore, Russia re-established itself as a power gaining strength in the Middle East negotiating with the US on equal footing,” the German analyst said.
However, the costs of this policy are high, too, she believes.
“Russia is now a clear conflict party being seen as part of a pro-Shia axis with Iran which Russia’s leadership wants to avoid,” Margarete Klein explained.
Meanwhile, Kristian Brakel, Middle East expert at the German Council of Foreign Relations, noted that Moscow saved the Assad regime from rebel forces in several key areas and bolstered its position at the Geneva talks.
“Russia used its air power mainly to bombard non-Islamist forces that had gained ground in the previous months and threatened the Assad regime in several key areas. Through its bombing campaign Russia ensured that the regime regained a comfortable military position in which it now believes that it does not have to make compromises at the negotiation table in Geneva, but believes that it can regain control over the whole country. This remains a fantasy,” the expert said.
According to him, Russia also used the opportunity to ensure that it will have a role to play in the region in the next years and to test some of its new weapons in combat.
However, Kristian Brakel added that the regime cannot regain control of the whole country, as many regular Syrians will not agree to be governed again by Bashar Assad.
“Talks in Geneva will continue for quite some time, truce might as well, but will be broken from time to time, as we have seen during the last days. Eventually fighting will resume. No major breakthrough can be expected for the next months,” Kristian Brakel said.
In turn, Maksim Starchak, research fellow at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Research, Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that the withdrawal of Russian troops was the natural measure in the current state of truce in Syria, taking into account cooperation between Russia and the US on this issue.
“Russia would have to start a land operation, but taking into account all the economic and political costs of such a scenario, it has not been implemented. We should not forget about the economic crisis in Russia and the budget deficit as well – carrying out combat missions abroad costs a pretty penny. And if the defense budget in 2015 was able to cover it, in 2016 it became more difficult to support such military activity,” the expert said.
According to him, Russia, compared with NATO and the United States, was able to demonstrate its own power fighting against terrorists in Syria, but the victory over them is still far away.
“IS functions and it will gradually regain its lost ground after the end of active operation against it,” the analyst added.
From his point of view, the decision to keep Russian military bases in Syria illustrates the difficulties in the assessment of further developments in the region, as well as the desire of Russia to strengthen its influence there.
“It is reported that there will be forces in Syria sufficient to ensure control over the ceasefire regime. But this will not help to fight terrorism – at the best case it will help to preserve the status quo,” Maksim Starchak said.
In his opinion, regardless of the military-political situation in the region, Russia’s presence in Syria will help to demonstrate the country’s strength and project it on the entire Middle East.
Meanwhile, Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, suggested that Russian bases in Syria give Moscow an additional tool of influence.
“Infrastructure and the ability to resume the operation if necessary – not even in a few days but within a few hours – objectively strengthens Russia’s position in the settlement of the Syrian crisis and in the Middle East as a whole. Of course, we hope that we will not have to use this opportunity, but we also know that in Syria – and especially around Syria – there are forces that are not interested in the settlement and will try to disrupt the current ceasefire with fighting because their interests are not about peace in this region,” the expert said.
According to him, Islamic state has suffered significant damage losing much of the opportunity to continue its activities in Syria. Thus, in particular, terrorist command centers, infrastructure, and once smooth-running mechanisms of illegal oil trade suffered a serious blow.
“The Russian operation has also become an additional catalyst, contributing to the beginning of a new cycle of political dialogue for the settlement of the Syrian conflict. It became possible to bring the parties together in some degree. The fact that the ceasefire agreement is in force, less people are killed and there is no humanitarian disaster, which was a real threat just 2–3 months ago, is a great achievement,” Andrey Kortunov said.
From his point of view, Russian campaign is “quite an impressive demonstration of the capabilities and power” of the country.
“Russia has managed to hold a large-scale and effective operation thinking of the number of sorties, bombing and the practical results that have been achieved. These facts, of course, will be taken into account by all the major parties of the Syrian conflict,” the head of the Russian International Affairs Council said.
However, according to him, the settlement of the conflict is a complex multi-step process.
“This includes series of questions that will be probably solved gradually. The main thing today is that there is some positive dynamics,” Andrey Kortunov concluded.
The Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War with the participation of Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Navy started on 30 September 2015 and became the first large-scale post-Soviet Russia campaign outside the territory of the former USSR.
The main objectives of the operation were stabilizing the legitimate power in Syria, creating the conditions for political compromise and fighting against terrorist organizations.
From 30 September 2015 until mid-February 2016, when the ceasefire negotiations began, the Russian air forces have carried out 7,200 flights from Hmeymim airbase destroying more than 12,700 terrorists’ objects.
According to official data, six Russian soldiers were killed during the operation in Syria, five of them – in the performance of military duty.
The active phase of the campaign ended on 15 March 2016, when President Vladimir Putin ordered the Defence Ministry to begin withdrawing the main part of Russian military group from the Syrian Arab Republic.