Russia’s exit strategy in Syria

Hawaii Intelligence Digest, 06 January 2017, 15:30 hrs, UTC, Post #75.

Russia Looks for an Exit in Syria is republished with permission of Stratfor.”


Accessed on 06 January 2017, 15:30 hrs, UTC.

Author:  Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence.

Please click link to read the full story.


According to Stratfor Geopolitical Intelligence, Russia is looking for a way out of the seemingly endless Syrian Civil War.  Despite an impressive showing by Russian airpower in Aleppo, Russian defense planners believe a military solution in Syria “would likely take years of involvement”, which “would erode the current perception of Russian military effectiveness and would embroil Russia in a Middle Eastern quagmire not unlike the United States in Iraq.”  During the 1980s, Russia faced a similar situation in Iraq and pulled out just before the collapse of the Soviet state.

Stratfor intelligence experts believe growing strategic differences with Iran, which supplies manpower and some equipment to the Syrian regime, will grow overtime and gradually erode Russian influence in the region.  A projected rift between Iran and Russia could lead to a protracted conflict in Syria, something Russia wants to avoid.  Russia may be exploring a diplomatic and economic solution based on the recent cease fire agreement arranged between anti-Syrian rebels, President Assad of Syria, Turkey, and Russia.  Although the cease fire is holding in most areas, Iran feels the agreement is counterproductive to its immediate goal of suppressing forces against Assad and will eventually lead to more fighting.

With these factors in mind, here’s what Stratfor Geopolitical analysts believe is the future scenario for Russia in Syria:

“Notwithstanding its considerable leverage over Damascus, Moscow has been frustrated in its attempts to dictate the direction of the Syrian conflict by the often-overlooked fact that its influence in the country is secondary to that of Tehran. This is hardly surprising considering that Iran contributes far more to the loyalist war effort than Russia does. Moscow lends its support primarily in the realms of diplomacy and air power. By contrast, Tehran has contributed what overstretched loyalist forces crave most: manpower. Iran has bolstered the loyalists with tens of thousands of militia fighters, including elite contingents of Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters. Moreover, Iran has proffered copious financial aid to help keep the Syrian economy afloat.

Russia is aware of these issues and is already moving to redress them. In late November 2016, the Syrian armed forces announced the creation of a new military formation — the 5th Corps — assembled with help from Syria’s foreign allies, who would pay the fighters’ substantial monthly salaries of up to $580. Though not yet confirmed, initial indications suggest that Russia will provide most of the support for the 5th Corps, including weapons and training. The addition of a Russian-backed ground element to the loyalist roster would offer Moscow a critical counterweight against the Iranian-backed militias that have won Tehran greater influence in Damascus.

Though the competition between Russia and Iran in Syria is stiff, it is important to not exaggerate it. Coalition warfare is inherently messy, and Tehran and Moscow are both still committed to their common cause, bolstering loyalist forces against their mutual enemies. Aware that infighting could undermine their shared mission, Russia and Iran are also working to ensure greater coordination on the battlefield. In fact, the two countries announced Dec. 20 that they would create a joint headquarters in Syria to coordinate their support for loyalist forces. Nevertheless, loyalist differences remain an important factor in Syria. These differences do not rise to the level of infighting often witnessed in the rebel camp — including disputes among rebel supporters — but they continue to affect the loyalists. Occasionally, the differences have escalated into outright accusations of betrayal, as was the case in the rebel victory over predominantly Iranian-led forces in the battle of Khan Touman. As Moscow increasingly considers an exit strategy from the Syrian civil war, the divergence in Russia’s and Iran’s commitments will become all the more apparent.”


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