Syria Analysis: Why Russia is Killing Civilians

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PHOTO: Russian warplanes at Hmeimim airbase in western Syria


Why has Russia been attacking Syria’s civilians in their aerial intervention from last autumn?

In a detailed post for War is Boring, Tom Cooper goes through the reasons. There is the political motive:

The purpose of the Russian military intervention in Syria can be defined as forcing the Syrian opposition into negotiations on Moscow’s conditions, with the aim of stabilizing the position of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Not only the entire Russian military strategy in Syria, but all of its tactics, too, are designed to achieve this goal. And in the Kremlin’s thinking, achieving this goal merits all methods, regardless of consequences.

However, there are also important technical factors. Put bluntly, Russia is operating with an air force which is on the point of being obsolete:

Whether the mission is flown by day or by night, more than 80 percent of weaponry deployed by the VKS [Russian Air Force] is so-called “dumb” bombs. Obviously, when dropped from medium altitudes against geographic coordinates — frequently through cloud cover — such weapons are grossly inaccurate.

The VKS is perfectly aware of this and has partially attempted to overcome this problem through deployment of cluster bombs, the effects of which are supposed to cover a bigger area. However — and irrespective of often catastrophic repercussions for the local population — nearly all of the ordnance deployed in Syria dates from the 1980s, and thus frequently fails to detonate.

Because hardly anybody in the West is complaining, and because it’s unlikely that any Russian is ever going to be held accountable for dozens of massacres perpetrated by the VKS in Syria, Moscow needs not care.


It’s been nearly 10 months now that I’ve been closely following Russian military operations in Syria on day-by-day and blow-by-blow basis.

I admit I was skeptical right from the start — I expected Russians to indiscriminately bombard civilians in insurgent-held parts of Syria. My standpoint drew criticism not only from many of my readers, but also from most of my colleagues. My contacts who serve as professional military pilots could never imagine their Russian colleagues would do such things as bomb civilians.

Decades of Shame

For much of the last 30 years, what is now the VKS has vegetated in shame. Massive losses of aircraft, personnel and facilities caused by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, followed by deep budget shortfalls, resulted in its near-collapse in the mid-1990s.

The status of Russian military flying and combat training at any level was catastrophic for most of the early 2000s, too. This began to change in the last few years, since the second government of President Vladimir Putin began investing in new combat aircraft — especially different variants of the Sukhoi’s Su-27-design, such as the Su-30, Su-34 and Su-35, each with much-improved avionics, range and payload capabilities.

Reports detailed significant improvements, including intensified training and even large-scale, combined-arms exercises. Russian pilots could once again be proud of themselves, their service and their aircraft.

Such reports posed a number of questions regarding non-quantifiable factors such as the quality of the VKS’ current training — and especially about possible new developments of doctrine, strategy and tactics, leadership quality and operational prowess.

Back during the Cold War, Soviet air power had no autonomous role — and was purely supportive. It was well-known that its tactical commanders and pilots were veritable pawns. All decision-making processes lay with higher levels of command.

How would the VKS operate in an expeditionary scenario, the likes of which became practically routine for Western powers during the 1990s, with interventions in Iraq, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya and other conflict zones?

While Russians had never before run an expeditionary operation of that kind, their top political and military commanders repeatedly insisted their air force had the necessary know-how and equipment to deliver a performance at least analogue to that of Western air forces in such operations.

The Strategy

The longer the Russian military is deployed in Syria and the more its air power is bombarding, the more details about the essence of this operation become clear.

The Kremlin has justified its the current intervention in Syria on the basis of two of the 11 strategic actions encoded in the Russian government’s National Military Doctrine, published in 2010.

The doctrine lays out the eligible aims of any Russian military deployment. They include “countering external dangers”, halting the “spread of international terrorism”, limiting the “occurrence of sources of inter-ethnic/inter-faith tensions”, and defeating “forcible extremism in various regions of the world”.

Therefore, the purpose of the Russian military intervention in Syria can be defined as forcing the Syrian opposition into negotiations on Moscow’s conditions, with the aim of stabilizing the position of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Not only the entire Russian military strategy in Syria, but all of its tactics, too, are designed to achieve this goal. And in the Kremlin’s thinking, achieving this goal merits all methods, regardless of consequences.

Read full article….

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38 COMMENTS

  1. Russia is following the ‘Dahye Doctrine”. How can men with a death wish, be deterred? By death?
    The only way to deter them is by targeting their families and property. This is of course not “Politically Correct”, but it proved effective in Gaza, when the IDF targeted the private homes of the Heads of Hamas.

      • Because it worked in Chenynya Putin wrongly assumed it would work in Syria. The catch: he ignored so many variables, especially size, geographical proximity and ability to operate in isolation with little attention from the world, including the Muslim world. Gaza has similar variables. The smaller the country and the more isolated, the less likely mass targeting of civilians will achieve its goal.
        .
        In WWII one of the arguments in favor of “strategic bombing” on both sides was that it would destroy morale and force a country to given up (Mass terror bombing of Germany didn’t begin until after Coventry though Hitler had engaged in such in Spain (Guernica), the Lowlands (Rotterdam) and Poland (Warsaw) and elsewhere). Historians found instead that to the degree such bombing affected morale, it made people MORE willing to rally around Hitler or Churchill. Putin cherry picked the evidence for unique circumstances where the strategy would work.
        .
        As in WWII, it has the opposjte effect in Syria, motivating Sunnis to fight forever because they can (because they can’t be defeated). To give in to Putin, Assad and Khamenei would be akin to Jews giving in to Hitler if they had any ability whatsoever to do otherwise. Worse yet, the longer this war continues and the more war crimes Putin commits against Sunnis, the more Russia takes the #1 spot as enemy of all Sunnis worldwide (Iran 2nd, Israel 3rd and USA 4th). Even the most extreme Islamists–propaganda aside–know that a majority of US air missions (60% if I recall) return without dropping their bombs because too many civilians would be endangered.

        • Because it worked in Chenynya Putin wrongly assumed it would work in Syria

          But it is working in Syria. So much so that you are obsessively posting off topic rants on this blog trying to promote the idea that Russia’s involvement in Syria is going to be hampered by it’s economy, demographics, poverty, drug problem etc etc. All of which have had no effect and will not. Clearly you would not be so obsessive and manic about Russia if Russia’s involvement was not throwing a huge spanner in the works for your agenda.

          Assad is secure and firmly in power and the opposition is in tatters. ISIS is collapsing.

          Worse yet, the longer this war continues and the more war crimes Putin commits against Sunnis, the more Russia takes the #1 spot as enemy of all Sunnis worldwide (Iran 2nd, Israel 3rd and USA 4th).

          Nothing could be further from the truth. Your imaginary table is pure fiction which is why you are unable to back it up with evidence. The US remains the most hated country in the region.
          http://www.wrmea.org/2012-november-december/why-do-arabs-and-muslims-hate-america.html

          The Sunni states are all turning to Putin to form alliances while snubbing Washington. What the US did to Sunnis is Iraq is orders of msg I ride worse than anything Russia did in Syria. Not only that, but Russia is gone to more Sunnis than the US and Europe combined.

          Even the most extreme Islamists–propaganda aside–know that a majority of US air missions (60% if I recall) return without dropping their bombs because too many civilians would be endangered.

          False. That only applies to Syria because the US is trying to preserve the strength of Sunni jihadist groups in the hope they will overthrow Assad. In Iraq, the US were dropping in average a 500 lb bomb every minute 24/7 for 8 years.

          • Actually according to this Russia and Iran are pretty widely disliked in the region. There wasn’t a single country who viewed Russia more favorably than unfavorably and the number weren’t that close. Same for Iran. Even the US had at least one country that viewed us favorably.
            http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/27/group/6/
            http://www.pewglobal.org/database/indicator/25/group/6/

            And I don’t know where you’re getting this BS that the sunnis are allying with Putin. The Turks hate him. The Saudis are deliberately lowering oil prices to screw him and Iran. The rest follows the Saudis lead and they are already US clients who don’t need Putin. Especially considering that Putin apparently can’t even bring Assad to the table.

            • Actually according to PEW, the US is universally disliked in the region. There wasn’t a single country who viewed the US more favorably than unfavorably and the number weren’t that close.
              All the more amazing is that this is n spite of the tens of billions the US pours into the region to buy favor.

              Not only that but for over a decade, the US has polled as the greatest threat to world peace bar none.

              • “There wasn’t a single country who viewed the US more favorably than unfavorably and the number weren’t that close.”

                That’s a lie. I recommend you go look at the numbers.

              • “according to PEW, the US is universally disliked in the region.”
                .
                What do you expect ? The US is country full of infidels, and the Americans are not even ashamed of being infidels, nor do they pay much respect to Islam.

            • And I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under for the last 6 months but the Gulf States and Israel have all snubbed Washington in favor of Moscow. The Turks hate everyone and everyone hates them. The Saudis are going out of their way to suck up to him. And as the rest follows the Saudis lead, they are doing the same.

              Putin brought Assad to the table long ago. It’s Kerry who is incapable of rounding up his gang of jihadi thugs.

              • That’s some evidence of an “alliance” you have there. LMAO. Good lord that’s just pathetic. Stop making stuff up.

              • I know you can’t cope with reality at the best of time Kevin, but when the US president is snubbed in favor of Moscow, it’s a pretty irrefutable sign of where the focus of power and influence lies.

              • How was the US President “snubbed”? You just can’t quit making shit up. Bibi met with Putin and all of the sudden it’s a “snub”? What rock do you live under? Heads of state meet all the time. Get a grip.

  2. Russian-Israeli economic cooperation increases dramatically. Free trade zones, new projects in pharmacology, energy, commercial aviation, establishing new factories and exchange of knowledge and intelligence. Amrica eat your heart out.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8-zMyzi6Sw Putin and Netanyahu June 7 2016 Moscow

    • Awesome. Now if only they could sucker the Russkies into giving them about 3 billion dollars a year and unlimited support at the UN we’d be rid of the arrogant ingrates and they’d be Putin’s headache to deal with. Though I can only imagine the awkwardness in the room when someone asks Bibi about the S-300 that Russia is currently selling to Israel’s arch-enemy.

        • In Israel’s case I’d prefer we stab them in the front. They’ve earned it. Especially the Israeli George Bush known as Bibi. The man is an idiot. You’re growing pretty predictable yourself.

        • Both the US and Israel have powerful people and would-be powerful people with very different views on policy, including Middle East policy. Sometimes one group is in power, sometimes another. These are democracies.
          .
          It is inevitable that relationships will vary over time, which brings cries of “Betrayal” when a new administration doesn’t follow the same policy as the previous one.
          .
          You can never rely on a free democracy.

        • “Amrica eat your heart out.”

          Your rants are so funny Amir. An anti-imperialist israelite with a crash on russia. Stockholm syndrome?

      • Now if only they could sucker the Russkies into giving them about 3 billion dollars a year and unlimited support at the UN we’d be rid of the arrogant ingrates and they’d be Putin’s headache to deal with

        First you’d need apolitical system as corrupt as Washington’s and then a slew of political prostitutes willing to sell their would stop get elected.

        • You want to talk about corruption? Really? LOL, ok. According to transparency international Russia ranks 119 out of 160 countries. The US ranks 16th out of 160 countries. LMAO. Try again. The Russian state is rotten from top to bottom. Even their olympic program is hilariously dirty.
          https://www.transparency.org/country/#USA

          • Really? LOL, ok.

            Sure anywtime.

            Name any other country where one has to raise a billion dollars in campaign funds just to make ti to the White House.

            According to transparency international Russia ranks 119 out of 160 countries. The US ranks 16th out of 160 countries.

            ROLFLA. That is based on PERCEPTION, not actual metrics.

            All that tells us it that the US is shameless about it’s level of corruption. The US has made corruption legal. Thanks to the Citizens United ruling , the US Supreme court has ruled that campaign contributions are unlimited, which means whoever is picked to lead the country is completely bought and sold by thosw with the most money.
            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/us/politics/22scotus.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

            The US has become an oligarchy.

            The US is rotten from top to bottom and stinks to high heaven.
            Top 10 Ways the US is the Most Corrupt Country in the World
            http://www.juancole.com/2013/12/corrupt-country-world.html

            http://www.thetoptens.com/most-corrupt-countries-world/

            • Juan Cole? ROTFLMAO. I could keep showing you graphics all night showing you how thoroughly corrupt Russia, but i doubt it would sink in.

              • Graphics showing what Kevin? Perception? Maybe we need to look at graphics showing how much goes into campaign finance (aka bribe money) or how much retired lawmakers receive once they leave office and collect their deferred jobs (aka bribes) with weapons suppliers and/or medical companies or lobbyists.

                Are you seriously going to tell be that those 29 standing ovations Bibbi received before confess were simply because they all love him and Israel? Are you going to stand there and tell me that Congress were acting in the interests of US citizens when they voted to end their right to negotiate discounts on prices of medicines purchased by the US government on behalf of the public?

                What about the fact that Congress routinely approves arms sales in gross violation of it’s own laws like the Symington Amendment? Or the fact that Dick Cheney, who lobbied Washington to approve the sale of F16s to Pakistan at the time his wife was on the board of Lockheed Martin, while he withheld intelligence showing that Pakistan was developing nuclear weapons?

                None of this is illegal Kevin so strictly speaking, none of it counts as corruption, even though it is the more blatant form of corruption. The paradox is that because the corruption in the US government is orders of magnitude greater than anywhere else in the world, it goes unnoticed because it is accepted as part fo doing business in Washington and not considered corruption.

              • It’s not just perception. They do things such as monitor the income statements of Russian officials and a hell of a lot more. You don’t know what in the world you’re talking about, as usual. I’m done with you. It’s pointless even trying to talk sense to someone so blatantly ignorant.

            • And that other link just appeared to be some random idiots giving their opinions without any factual evidence at all. LOL. Keep trying.

              • What factual evidence do you need Kevin? That US presidential campaigns are the most highly funded in the world and that campaign contributions are blatant bribes? That the government routinely passes laws that serve the interests of corporations are the expense and risk to the public? That no bankers went to prison for the 2008 crimes? That the US revolving door is a blatant form of graft and corruption?

  3. US stabbing allies in the back? Not exactly !! Ignoring them because of Iran … under Obama’s F.P.
    That’s all.
    No matter who is coming next to W.H., the US foreign policy will change (more or less) regarding M.E. allies.

  4. About Russia!
    Because of its raw materials and weapon sales can not be completely isolated. I mean more than its self isolation because of Putin’s foreign policy
    In Syria, Russia is the main enemy of the Arabs.In Europe is the main enemy of the peace.
    So we do business w.R. today.Tomorrow we ignore it;After tomorrow could be our enemy but never a friend.
    With China we do business with pleasure. Not friend but never enemy.

  5. Not only the entire Russian military strategy in Syria, but all of its tactics, too, are designed to achieve this goal. And in the Kremlin’s thinking, achieving this goal merits all methods, regardless of consequences.

    Meaningless drivel. The “opposition” has repeatedly and openly stated that this was entirely their objective. In fact, they repeatedly rejected talks in the basis that talking to Assad was not appropriate because Assad was not sufficiently weak to extract the desired concessions.

    This too was the position in Washington.

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