LIVE UPDATES: At least 40 people are reported to have been killed after surface-to-surface missiles struck a market place in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta today.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
On October 28, we covered unmarked Russian military vehicles on the move apparently in Al-Shilfatiya, Latakia from a post on Twitter by @LuftwaffeAS:
Oryx blog had reported a sighting of the R-166-0,5 in Syria on September 15 before airstrikes began.
As we noted, the convoy contained R-166-0,5 radio communications vehicles, which Russia has also used in the war in Ukraine as InformNapalm spotted in Logvino near Debaltsevo.
According to InformNapalm, the R-166-0,5 has been in the Russian army since 2005, and actively began to appear with troops at least at the level of a regiment or brigade since 2011.
Russian photographer Max Avdeev happened to capture an R-166-0,5 in a series for Buzzfeed on the battle of Debaltsevo:
The R-166-0,5 also appeared near the Ukrainian border in August:
While the vehicles in the convoy in Latakia were unmarked, two had a white square painted on them instead of unit numbers, a common practice of maskirovka of the Russian army in eastern Ukraine.
It was unclear from one photo of the infantry in the convoy whether they were Russians or Syrians.
LiveJournal Russian blogger Ruslan Leviev of the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in Russia had our post translated into Russian, and then added some more research on this convoy. The following is a summary translation by The Interpreter of their additional research:
Earlier, the same kind of R-166-0,5 was noted in the city of Hama by Ivan Sidorenko, a Syria conflict blogger
Newly published images showing a Russian R-166-0.5 (ultra)
high-frequency signals (HF/VHF) vehicle driving through Syria’s coastal
region now leaves little to no doubt on Russia’s intentions in Syria.
R-166-0.5 provides jam-resistant voice and data communications over a
long range, enabling Russian troops to communicate with their bases in
the coastal strongholds of Tartus and Lattakia while operating far
On October 2015, activists from the turkishnavy.net blog snapped a photo of a KIL-58 Russian freight ship sailing through the Bosphorous. On the deck, Russian marines are distinctly visible.
CIT enlarged the photo of the infantry in the truck in Al-Shilfatiyah and compared it to the photos of the Russian marines on the deck of the KIL-158, and indeed the camouflage pattern looked similar.
“We believe that these in fact were Russian marines, and not soldiers of
the Syrian Arab Army (Assad’s forces) in Russian kit,” said CIT.
The digital desert camouflage uniform was introduced in 2009 originally for use by the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization’s (ODKB) Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (KSOR). A photo published by newsru.com in October 2009 shows then-President Dmitry Medvedev inspecting the new uniforms.
CIT then further analyzed the armor, citing photos published by Syrian conflict blogger Ivan Sidorenko:
As CIT noted:
Earlier, we had noted the dispatch of Russian marines to guard the air field in Syria, and on October 1, the RF Defense Ministry confirmed this information.
The Institue for the Study of War cited an analysis of satellite images of the Hmeemeem air base on September 15 in which artillery howitzers and tri-section trucks, used to transport the howitzers, can be distinguished, which corresponds to the hardware from the military convoy in al-Shilfatiya.
For comparison, here is a photo of the tri-section modification of the KamAZ-6350 truck for transporting artillery:
Using wikimapia, @5urpher, a microblogger who has covered the war in Ukraine for the last year, found the convoy was moving from the front line toward Latakia and the Hmeemeem air base.
The elements of the convoy photo line up on the map:
In a separate analysis, Dr Igor Sutyagin, a Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London, examined the pictures in the first and second tweets from @LuftwaffeAS.
He corroborated our findings and provided some pictures for reference.
He confirmed the presence in the convoy of the mobile radio known in Russian as a KShM – Komandno-Shtabnaya Mashina [Control Staff Vehicle], evidently an R-166-0,5 type, on the base of modified BTR-80 (APC).
Sutyagin noted that one of the R-166-0,5 vehicles was being towed – a common occurrence as the BTR-80 armoured personnel carrier, which provides the base for the unit, frequently suffers from overheating as its coolant boils.
Others have noted this issue:
Translation: @jordan8205 @LuftwaffeAS @forest_brother so the insufficiency of the radiator is a common problem for all BTR-80s regardless of the engine.
He also confirmed a KaMAZ-4310-based staff vehicle.
The fourth picture in the @LuftwaffeAS’s first tweet was an ordinary BTR-80 (APC).
As for the fourth photo in @LuffwaffeAS’s second tweet, Sutyagin said it might be either an Infauna electronic warfare vehicle or another R-166-0,5, it was difficult to say. In our initial analysis, we thought this to be a third R-166-0,5 unit.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick and Pierre Vaux
Missiles struck a marketplace in the Damascus suburb of Douma this morning, killing, by some reports, at least 40 people.
WARNING – EXTREMELY GRAPHIC FOOTAGE:
The Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report that more than 40 were killed and “dozens” wounded. Activists reported that 11 missiles fell on the area.
An earlier report from the LCC said that the first four missiles to strike were believed to have been surface-to-surface rockets. Aircraft were also reported to be circling overhead.
Russian jets targeted the same neighbourhood yesterday, reportedly killing 14.
After that attack, Russian Su-24 bombers and Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft were seen flying over the area:
Today’s attack has particular resonance as the same neighbourhood saw one of the worst atrocities of the past year when the Syrian regime struck the marketplace with surface-to-surface missiles on August 16, killing nearly 100 people.
Meanwhile Russian jets continue to strike rebel-held areas of the Aleppo, Hama and Homs provinces today: