Ex-Russian Colonel: Why Moscow Has Not Succeeded in Syria After 1 Year of Involvement

In this view it's largely down to deficiencies of its Syrian allies

Almost a year ago (30.09.15) Russia has started a military operation in Syria. Despite the external support Bashar al-Assad army did not manage to achieve any significant success: 60-70% of the country is still controlled by the militants, population and even the army have to pay bribes to special forces and so on. It is impossible to win this war without a serious political decision.

Currently the majority of Russian troops went back home. Basically there is just one aviation group on Khmeimim. There is information that Kremlin decided to lower the cost of the whole operation: they try to save bombs and the aviation fuel. There are rumors that Russia is buying some bombs in Belarus as well where there is still plenty of bombs left after the USSR collapse.

Speaking about the amount of Russian involvement in Syria, currently there is around 4500 Russians there. The amount of people who voted (18.09.16) in the military base is 4378. It mostly includes military personnel, as well as non-military one including cooking personnel, repair personnel and so on. 4 times less of Russians in Syria voted during the previous elections in 2011. Source

The first 6 months of the campaign was a relative success. Russian army performed effective strikes and Syrian army was able to advance well and liberate some of the Syrian areas. However during the second 6 months no significant advance occurs as well as Syrian army had to pull back in some areas.

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Today around 60-70% (it is difficult to tell the exact numbers) of Syrian territory is occupied by militants and the opposition. Almost the whole East of Syria, significant parts of Aleppo, whole Idlib, significant parts of Homs, the territory around Deir ez-Zor, Eastern Ghouta in the South of Damask, Zabadani close to the border with Lebanon and other places are controlled by them.

Aleppo terrorists constantly get supplies from Turkey, it includes militants, arms, military supplies and vehicles. In Idlib the Syrian-Turkish border is completely opened.


Further Syrian army success does not look good. The quality of army management is the most important question today.

Since 2004 Syrian army fired a lot of officers and generals who got their education in USSR and Russia.

There are almost no Russian-speaking officers in Syrian army today. Officers who got their education in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the West were preferred. They were the main core of Syrian army.

A lot of Syrian generals and officers left Syrian army and joined the opposition as a result. They were not the worst part of Syrian army however. Today Syrian army suffers from corruption, intrigues, informal agreements, exchanges of services, connections and so on. Good and brave officers have no chance to get a promotion without connections.

All Russian military advisers left Syria. There are no Russian advisers in Syrian central army apparatus, nor anywhere in the army or staff. This is the main reason why there is no basic communication between Russian and Syrian military personnel. It causes non-compliance in actions, absence of cooperation and mutual mistrust. Both Russia and Syria suspect each other in information leaks and even betrayal.

There must be a coalition army for a much effective military actions. A united staff must be formed, and a united coalition commander with must be assigned, who will be personally responsible for the campaign.

It it desirable that such commander's rank is a deputy defense minister of Russia at least. He should not be in Khmeimim with his staff, but in Damask. He must be appointed there not for 3 months or so, but until the victory.

In this case only it is possible to talk about some adequate forces administration. Yet it is not implemented and it is unknown whether it will ever be.

In fact, Russia has already some good experience in creating a coalition army during the trainings. Since 2005 Russia is participating in joint "Peaceful mission" training within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The training deals with joint coalition forming and administration with different countries being involved. This experience could be used in Syria.

The coalition commander should have a strong reserve forces (in fact currently Syria has no reserve forces).

The best option for such reserve would be 10 thousand Ramzan Kadyrov soldiers that could form a brigade. Just the usage of such brigade would drastically change the situation on favor of Syrian army.

If Syria and Russia are allies, they should discuss together all the major changes in Syrian staff. Assad supporters could become angry since it might look like the Syrian sovereignty collapse, yet they are free to analyze how soon Syrian army will lose the war without such close cooperation.


Syrian army has no centralized supplies. Everything is decided by the army commanders. They get the money and decide what supplies they are going to buy. These commanders are the richest people in Syrian army. Central staff has no influence over their decisions regarding supplies. This is the reason why Assad army is so poorly supplied. Syrian young people leave the country from the conscription. There is a minimum help for the family members of dead or wounded solders. Such families are extremely poor.

Soldiers and officers are not motivated to fight.

The military college was left by Syrian army when just a few militants (8-11 people) entered it during the Aleppo battle. They left a lot of supplies and food there. Russian aviation had to destroy the object later.

This is the most common picture: RuAF completes the strikes yet the Assad soldiers do not advance. They advance for around 60 meters and then go back. They rarely aim when shoot.

Syrian army was advancing from Palmyra to Deir ez-Zor for 1.5 months, it was just 7 kilometers towards their destination. Yet they left it all in just one day. One of the high ranked staff officials came, spoke to his local army, and then they run away (this part looks strange even in Russian).

Sometimes just one bearded militant could scare Syrian army a lot and they would run away.

Assad artillery is also very bad. They could hit the target directly, or half-directly. They don't know how to hit a target from a closed position (indirectly).


Syrian army has no general strategic line. They command tactically on separate directions.

This is the style of Ali Aslan, who was the chief of staff of the Syrian Army, and now he is the closest Bashar al-Assad military adviser.

During the 6-day war in 1967 he was a platoon commander, and it looks like he is still on the same level. He does not know what a strategy is, nor everyone who passed through his training knows anything about it. There is no success everywhere Ali Aslan and his commanders are present.

Syrian army has no reserves. At the same time they are forming volunteer brigades. They could have formed a powerful reserve and concentrate it in the right place in the right time. Yet these volunteers are spread across the country and change nothing in this war.

There are shootings every night in the capital of Syria. They occur almost exactly at the same time each day, at around 22.00 (11 AM). Militants are in the suburbs of Damask yet no one is doing anything about them.

It looks like this tension in the capital of Syria is good for both sides.

Assad's traveling in Damask and in Syria is limited for his safety. Only the most trusted people could personally meet Assad.

A good question comes into the mind: does Assad actually know what is happening in his country? Does he have independent sources of information that allow for a full understanding of the situation in his country? By the way, Syrian leaders deny the fact that they have a civil war. They think it is an internal military conflict with the elements of external intervention. Despite these full scale military actions there is still no martial law introduced.

A huge amount if intelligence forces (mukhābarāt) make the situation even worse. There are four kinds of it: national, military, air and political. There is also the National bureau of security.

The corruption in Syrian intelligence forces is awful. They force the whole population and army to pay an enormous amounts of bribes.

You have to pay when traveling through Syria at each checkpoint. Even a truck loaded with food could only cross the checkpoint for money. A similar situation is happening with refugees. Syrian intelligence forces could take a random person from the crowd and take all the money. The person then is detained. In order to free such person you would have to pay around 200.000 liras per person. This is a huge amount of money by Syrian standards.

It is impossible to apply European approach in multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Syria. You have to consider the local way of thinking. For example Syria has a lot of Christians, there is around 2 million of them. However they are not willing to fight for Assad. They used to be a social outcast in Syria, heavily underrepresented at all government levels. Hence they are not willing to fight for Assad since they do not know what to expect from him in the future. They could be used to form a few brigades 10.000 people each, and they could be brave warriors too.

No one is cooperating with Syrian Turkmen. They are good warriors as well, yet they fight for the opposition mostly. They could have fought for Assad if they knew what they are fighting for exactly. Even the ones who are fighting for the opposition could have switched to the pro-government forces. Yet no one is working with them. Syrian intelligence forces also play a bad role here, they just steal these people and you never see them again.

The relatives would only get a note afterwards, saying that "your son died in prison". The government is making a lot of enemies for themselves.

Current situation in Syria is a dead end. There is no military solution for the situation. While Americans and the opposition are working on the new constitution, Assad is doing nothing.

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