Is Moscow planning ground operations in Syria?

	In this photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, Russian military support crew attach a satellite guided bomb to SU-34 jet fighter at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. Source: AP

In this photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, Russian military support crew attach a satellite guided bomb to SU-34 jet fighter at Hmeimim airbase in Syria. Source: AP

The Kremlin has declined to comment on a CNN report on the Russian Federation's possible preparations for a ground operation in Syria. However, Russian observers interviewed by RBTH assert that Moscow will not want to get involved too deeply in the conflict and will limit itself to air strikes.

Russian observers have dismissed rumors in Western media that Moscow is making plans to launch ground operations in Syria to prop up its embattled leader Bashar al Assad, following a CNN report about the transfer of Russian-made artillery systems from the Russian air base in the coastal city of Latakia further into Syria.

The Kremlin has denied the report, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists on Oct. 6 that "CNN could have got it wrong. They even confuse Putin with Yeltsin."

However, earlier, on Sept. 30, the head of Russia’s presidential administration, Sergei Ivanov, said that Russia intends to use only its air force, which is acting at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


Ground operations ‘not required’ at present

An expert with the Russian Council on International Affairs, Nikita Mendkovich, told RBTH that Russia is not considering the possibility of a ground operation in Syria at the moment, since it is not required by the current level of problems in the region.

"Russia's goal is to reduce the threat of ISIS by supporting the war effort of the legitimate government of Syria. The experience of the first days of the operation showed that the use of the air forces led to significant tactical successes and allowed [government forces] to stabilize the front line after the summer crisis," said Mendkovich.

With regard to CNN's reports, he said that the shipment being moved from Latakia "is likely to be weaponry supplied to the Syrian army as part of military contracts. This is Syrian artillery, not ours. "


No resources for ground intervention

Leonid Isayev, an orientalist and professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, told RBTH, that defeating ISIS without a ground operation is impossible.

"Support from the air helps the government forces to hold the territory that they control anyway," he said.

"The Syrian army has suffered large losses in previous years and does not have the strength to do much else. To get more, you need to send ground troops into Syria."

But, according to Isayev, Russia does not have enough resources for a ground intervention. "Moreover, we may harm Assad, because the larger our presence in Syria, the stronger the reaction of the West, Saudi Arabia and Turkey," he added.

The main thing, according to Isayev, lies in the fact that the Kremlin does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union.

"It is expected that at some point Russia will curtail air operations and will not allow itself to be drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict," he said.

Vasily Belozerov, co-chairman of the Association of Military Political Scientists, stressed in a conversation with RBTH that the "degree of presence of our forces in Syrian airspace is such that it is causing serious damage to ISIS, and that's enough."

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