NATO report lauds Russian ‘professionalism’ in Syria

A Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter landing at the Hmeymim airbase.

A Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter landing at the Hmeymim airbase.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS
A classified NATO report praising the performance of the Russian air force and aerospace contingents in Syria has appeared in the media and is being widely discussed.

Several Russian publications have referred to a recently leaked NATO document that allegedly acknowledges the “efficiency” and “professionalism” of Russia’s aerospace forces in Syria.

The news outlets cited Focus, a conservative German magazine, which published the report after obtaining the classified NATO file on March 5. The document reportedly demonstrates NATO officials’ respect for the capacity of the Russian aerospace forces operating in Syria.

“Forty Russian jets fly up to 75 missions per twenty-four hours, every day, conducting strikes aimed at ISIS,” Russian business daily Kommersant cited the German source as saying.

Technology plus intelligence

Compared to NATO’s contingent in Syria, the number of Russian warplanes operating in the country appears insignificant. NATO has 180 jets in Syria but strikes only 20 targets each day, according to Kommersant.

The leaked report stated that the total number of NATO airstrikes has amounted to a small fraction of the bombings carried out by Russia, despite the quantitative superiority the Alliance has over Russia in Syria. Russian media claim that the discrepancy is because of the alleged technological superiority of Russian jets and accurate intelligence.

“Moscow has dispatched four Su-35 jets that [technologically] surpass most of the Western-produced warplanes,” wrote online Russian news publication Vzglyad. The frequency with which Russian planes embark on missions is reported to be higher than that of NATO, too.

Some Russian publications highlighted the effectiveness of intelligence work Russia is carrying out in cooperation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence forces.

Vzglyad writes, citing the NATO report, that for its military coordination, “Moscow uses information obtained by the Syrian air intelligence forces and data collected by Russian secret services that regularly inform it about strategically important targets.”

Focus, the German publication that first published the NATO report, said nothing about the alleged bombings of civilian sites, including hospitals, by the Russian aerospace forces. It is unclear whether the leaked report contained this information.

Military build-up

Russia transferred additional military systems to Syria last week, to monitor the ceasefire.

“In the past three days, the Russian Ministry of Defence … has stationed at the Khmeimim airbase three additional modern unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) complexes [and] two radar stations for small-target detection … to detect use of artillery by terrorist groups,” TASS news agency cited the Russian Ministry of Defence as saying.

Russia has used its UAVs and a system of satellites to check whether the ceasefire regime is being complied with by all sides, the Ministry of Defence said. TASS said the Russian military contingent in Syria also receives additional intelligence from Assad’s air force.

Washington also plans to reinforce its contingent in Syria. The U.S. has moved to replace the B-1 Lancer aircraft currently bombing targets in Iraq and Syria with an undisclosed number of B-52 bombers, which have a longer range and can fly over the battlefield for as long as 10 hours, reported Fox News. Although both Russia and the U.S. have attempted to boost their military capability in the region, it does not appear the two countries are competing in an arms race.

Both Washington and Moscow refer to ISIS as the primary reason for their deployment of additional military equipment to Iraq and Syria.

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