How Much a Year in Syria Costs Russia - Actually Not That Much

The intervention is a game changer for the price of a regular military exercise

Fri, Sep 30, 2016 | 2696 Comments

A year ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad officially requested Russian assistance, citing the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria and the USSR back in 1980. President Putin at once asked the Federation Council to allow the use of armed forces abroad, easily obtaining unanimous consent, since by that time, Russian planes, helicopters and servicemen were already in Syria.

The news at once provoked questions and rumors. Mindlessly, every foreign commentator recalled Afghanistan, Vietnam and Iraq. Russians worried about the cost, the country having already been under sanctions for six months.   

There are two ways to count the cost of the Syrian operation. The first one is to count each expense: a cruise missile or a bomb dropped on terrorists, a ton of kerosene, one-hour flight time, salaries and uniforms for soldiers, shipping from Russia to Syria and so on. Journalists competed over experts able to count every element of the mosaic, coming up with 2.5 to 4 million EUR a day. Even the latter is not so much, bringing a year of the Syrian to 1.46 billion.

However, there is another equally reasonable way to count. Consider what those planes, pilots and ships would be doing if there were no operation in Syria. They would still be flying, burning fuel, and wearing out equipment bombing Russian testing ranges instead of Islamic terrorists. Supply and patrol ships would go on training exercises. 3M-54 Klub missile systems would be launched on training targets. (The times when ships and aircrafts lay idle, instead of learning how to fight, while military personnel worked on construction sites of their generals' residences, have passed, hopefully never to return. )

This means that money spent on the operation in Syria largely corresponds to that involved in regular combat training. Of course, participation in real combat actions is different from training exercises, giving participants awards and promotions.

The only other expenses are transportation of the Syrian contingent (from 2,000 to 4,000 people including military and civilian personnel). Increased service time for participation in combat actions will require extra money, but this is for future reference.  

Even before the operation started, the fleet had to purchase a few carrier ships, which are now part of the “Syrian express” together with landing ships and tankers. They had to do that after Russian cargo ships from Russia to Syria, in 2010-2014 were stopped several times by customs officials. Once Turkey intercepted and forced a Moscow-Damascus airliner to land, confiscating the cargo, which they claimed was for military use. Now no one stops Russian transport under St Andrew’s flag.   

In fact, Prime Minister Medvedev mentioned this last December, when the 2016 budget was passed. The Defense Ministry financed the operation in Syria by reallocating budget items, planning a little less for 2016 than for 2015 – 3.14 trillion rubles versus 3.6 trillion.

The hardest aspect of the Syrian operation is losses – a plane shot down by Turkey, helicopters. Most important are the  nineteen soldiers who died in Syria. A month before the first losses, Putin said at the Valdai Club:

“Of course, our military men in Syria are fighting terrorism. But, first of all, they are defending the interests of Russia and the Russian nation, risking their health and lives. They are heroes, but they chose this profession voluntarily. This is their choice and I am proud of them.”

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