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Was Plan B Enacted Against Russia in Syria?

Experts predict Russian air losses could grow

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

On July 9, gunmen from ISIS shot down a Russian Mi-35M helicopter in combat, killing Colonel Ryafagat Habibullin and Lieutenant Eugene Dolgin. According to media reports, the military considered response options: increasing the number of combat flights from the base in Khmeimim, and bringing in the Admiral Kuznetsov, with its deck-based aviation.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will probably order rapid reaction measures during a telephone conference this week.

<figcaption>The recent downing in Syria of a Russian Mi-35M helicopter</figcaption>
The recent downing in Syria of a Russian Mi-35M helicopter

The Admiral Kuznetsov has about 15 Su-33 strikers and MiG-29K/KUB’s, and also about 10 Ка-52К, Ка-27 and Ка-31 helicopters. According to TASS, the aircraft carrier was to hit gunmen in Syria from the Mediterranean Sea, from October 2016 to January 2017. However, according to news sources, it could come into action at the end of August.

How effective can this "Vengeance" operation be, and how efficient have the actions of Russia’s Air Force been since March 15 when completion of the active phase of the operation in Syria was declared?

The main goal is to close crossings at the Azaza and Jerabluza borders with Turkey, that allow the traffic of arms and new Islamists into Syria,” according to the Director of the Center for Middle East and Central Asia Countries Studies Semyon Bagdasarov. “Besides, we need to focus strikes by our combat aviation near Aleppo on the movements of fighters in these border areas, to prepare Syrian army attacks.

“It would be even better if we cooperated with the Kurdish militia that has already managed to capture one of the transit points on the west bank of the Euphrates – Manbidge - after furious fighting. (The city center is controlled by the militia, but combat actions are still going on in the outskirts).

“Now we need to assist the Kurds in closing the border with Turkey and take control of two major remaining corridors. This will be a severe blow to the fighters, who will stop receiving support.

“We know that the Islamists have taken advantage of the fact that we decreased our bombings. Ten to fifteen thousand fighters are concentrated near Aleppo, and the situation is very serious. During the ceasefire, jihadists not only grew their ranks, but also received a lot of new armament, partly from Turkey. The portable Stinger air defense system that shot down our helicopter was produced in Turkey under American license.

“The Minister of Information of Syria warned us in May that Islamists received dozens of portable air defense systems, and that we needed to be ready for Russian aviation losses. Now it’s happening, and it’s harder to close the crossing points and protect Aleppo. But there is no other option if we want to clear the Islamists from Syria. I repeat, we need to work closely with the Kurds.”

SP: So does this mean that in the event of continuing "sluggish bombing", we can expect increasing aviation losses?

It does. There are a growing number of Turkish military among the fighters. Turkish special forces took part in combat operations in the frontier zone six months ago. Now Turkish soldiers have been spotted near Aleppo. All this suggests the Plan B that the Americans have threatened us with - arms deliveries to fighters - have increased.

Let’s implement our own Plan B. First of all it would include assistance to the armed wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, more weapons deliveries to the Syrian army, and assistance to the People’s United Revolutionary Movement, created in March, and proven in fights with the Turks. There are a lot of Alawites in the ranks of this movement.  

Political expert and blogger Anatoly Nesmeyan (El Murid) has a different take:

I think Russia needs to finish its military operation in Syria. We’re not exerting any critical influence on the situation, and will not be able to complete any serious tasks with the current numbers. The fighters have few significant objectives, which are important for us to destroy using expensive bombs and missiles. Besides, there is a high risk to the civilian population. As a rule, the Islamists act in small mobile groups. We need good intelligence to rapidly destroy them, but are forced to rely on Syrian intelligence, which is exhausted after so many years of war.”

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