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  • Author: Johan Norberg, Natalie Simpson
  • Publication Date: 09-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: According to press information, on 10 September 2021, the Russian Armed Forces plan to start the one-week-long active phase of this year’s annual strategic-level exercise (STRATEX), Zapad (West) 2021, a bilateral large-scale Russo-Belorussian strategic-level exercise, primarily in Belarus and Russia’s Western Military District (MD, see map 1). Large-scale Russian exercises understandably attract much attention and speculation both in Russia and abroad. Most Western comments about Zapad 2017 addressed Russian and international political aspects and detailed several capabilities employed in the exercise and its scenarios or steps and phases. Few, if any, addressed what it meant for the potential of Russian forces to fight wars, which these exercises are all about actually. Russia’s warfighting potential is important for the West writ large for several reasons. Tensions between Russia and NATO are increasing. Russia perceives a growing military threat in its west. Russian strategic documents re-emphasise the importance of military power. Russia actually uses military force to achieve its geopolitical goals, such as in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Belarus
  • Author: Igor Delanoe
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: Since the late 2000s, the Russian Federation has expanded its naval footprint in the Eastern Mediterranean, and even resurrected its Mediterranean Squadron in 2013. The backbone of this operational squadron is provided by units coming from the Black Sea Fleet, complemented by vessels from other Russian naval formations (namely, the Northern, Baltic, and Pacific Fleets, as well as the Caspian Sea Flotilla) on a rotational basis. As the Russian State Armament Program for the period 2011-2020 was implemented, the Black Sea Fleet received new warships and new diesel-powered submarines. Consequently, by the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, Moscow’s naval footprint in the Mediterranean had already been reconstituted. Yet, since the mid-2010s, a structural change occurred in the Mediterranean Squadron’s order of battle. The Squadron has morphed qualitatively and quantitatively, and has become more capable. Featuring fewer ex-Soviet large platforms and more modern green water units, this naval task force has been assigned mainly a defensive objective: locally counterbalance navies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and protect Russia’s southern flank from perceived instability emanating from the Mediterranean’s southern shore, in the context of the Arab Spring. Moreover, Moscow’s direct military involvement in the war in Syria has provided the Mediterranean Squadron with a new purpose while highlighting a conventional deterrence mission.
  • Topic: NATO, Armed Forces, Navy, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Charles Bartles, Lester Grau
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Syrian Civil War produces a new set of problems involving extended urban combat, intense fights for key resources (oil fields, water, and lines of communication and supply), conventional combat among irregular units, ethnic and religious cleansing, a large number of foreign combatants with varying motivations, and contending outside powers fighting a proxy engagement. The Russian Federation is not an expeditionary power, and its entry into Syria on the side of the regime has strained its logistical resources. From the beginning of the Syrian campaign, it was clear that Russian involvement was initially envisaged to be through the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). Although the Syrian government was on the verge of collapse, and the Syrian military was on its hind legs and a shell of its former self, there was a sufficient number of Syrian ground units that were mission capable. With this understanding, the VKS was to be the principal supplier of Russian combat power aimed at disruption of the command and control and leadership of the groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime through the provision of reconnaissance and target destruction. In particular, Russia’s priority was the destruction of the Western-backed, moderate opposition groups, since it saw these as the greatest immediate threat to Assad. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other Sunni extremist groups were targeted, but sat lower on Russia’s priority list. As with other such operations, «mission creep” soon resulted in Russia’s involvement quickly expanding past the provision of aerospace support to planning, and, in some cases, conducting ground operations. General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, confirmed this expansion of Russian involvement in a December 2017 interview. Russia’s ground-based contingent in the Syrian campaign involves a diverse set of forces and capabilities. Some of the key features of this expanded ground force mission included a Russian model of military advisors, integrated and modernized fires, mobility and countermobility operations, a featured role for military police, use of coastal defense, spetznaz, and private military company (PMC) forces. Russian ground forces have benefitted from the opportunity to provide combat experience to a large number of professional soldiers, conduct battlefield testing of new systems and observe the impact of different terrain on tactics. The forces opposing the Syrian government provide a different opponent than the “enemy” encountered in normal Russian peacetime training and much of the “Syrian experience” is discussed and dissected in Russian professional military journals.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Robert E. Hamilton
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The Russian Federation’s intervention in Syria is a watershed event. However the war there ends, its impact on Russia is likely to be profound. For the first time in its post-Soviet history, Russia’s military is fighting outside the borders of the former Soviet Union. In doing so, it is exercising military capabilities that had atrophied from long lack of use. Moscow is also rebuilding its diplomatic muscle through its role in Syria by managing a diverse coalition, leading a parallel peace process, and forcing the United States to take the Kremlin’s preferences into account when making decisions in the Middle East. Through Syria, Russia has reemerged on the geopolitical stage. The war is not over, and there are many ways in which things could still go badly for Russia. Moscow may find that a return to geopolitical prominence entails costs and risks at least as great as the rewards that status brings. Nevertheless, the West will be dealing with a Russia that has changed fundamentally through its experience in the war. Understanding these changes and their implications for Western governments is the focus of this conclusion chapter. It is structured around two questions. First, what does Syria tell us about how Russia fights its wars? Second, how has Russia’s experience in Syria affected the capabilities of its armed forces? Answering these questions should increase our understanding of Russia as a geopolitical actor and allow Western governments to make more effective policy on issues where Russia is a factor.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, War, Armed Forces, Military Intervention, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Syria