BEIRUT, LEBANON (7:00 P.M.) – In an opinion piece from The National Interest, the publication argues that the Russian Armed Forces have become ‘better’ after participating in the Syrian War since September 2018.
Citing the Executive Director of CFTNI Paul Saunders, the article argued that Russia benefited both militarily and politically as a result of their intervention.
“Paul Saunders began the discussion by outlining Russia’s pre-intervention strategic objectives, which he said were to ‘prevent the fall of the Assad government’ and to combat terrorism by fighting ‘them [terrorists] there’ in Syria rather than in Russia,” the TNI article said, pointing out that the “side benefit” for Russia was trying to force the “United States into some kind of political dialogue” in the aftermath of Russia’s isolation from the West following the Crimean annexation.
“Of course, once Russia got into Syria in a significant way,” Saunders continued, “then, I think, the Russian government and the Russian military developed some additional interests there” including securing its greatly expanded military basing presence.
Saunders emphasized that achieving a stable political order in Syria will be extremely difficult for Syria, Russia and Iran without significant external financial assistance for reconstruction.
From another standpoint, the TNI article cited Michael Kofman, senior research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, about the Russian achievements and military progress as a result of this operation.
“Syria is really broken up into three wars” he said: the first being the “reconquest campaign” by the government, the second is the “existential conflict between Turkey and the Kurds,” and the third is “the open war of attrition between Israel and Iran.” Per Kofman, it is the latter conflict that is the most risky for Russia because it is “the war in the Middle East that they did not come to Syria for” as “there is a giant liability and mitigation risk.” An escalation in the Iran–Israel conflict would force Russia to break promises to either or both sides, and endanger its position as the only actor to enjoy decent relations with Iran and Israel.
Kofman also discussed the impact of the Syrian conflict on Russian military tactics and operational capabilities. He described Syria as “the principal transformative conflict for Russia today and the Russian military.” He noted that the conflict “is driving a great deal of experience and innovation, and for the Russian military it is the happy war” that has become the primary theater for Russian forces to attain operational combat experience. Approximately two-thirds of Russian tactical air assets have rotated through Syria. General officers, staff officers, and rank-and-file soldiers leave have gained valuable lessons on modern warfare and developed new ideas to implement in future conflicts.
Kofman added that “tactics are driven by technology and the future,” and Russian tactical innovation was very limited before Moscow intervened in Syria. He compared the performance of tactical aircraft in Syria to the 2008 Russia–Georgia conflict as a “night and day transformation.”