Putin in Syria: Russian Air Force And Navy Conduct Massive Strikes Across Syria

November 20, 2015
Video from Russian Ministry of Defense reportedly showing Russian naval and air strikes against targets in Syria

Russia has launched a new wave of cruise missile attacks in Syria, and ISIS appears to be the target of some of the strikes, but Russia’s bombing campaign is still focusing on non-ISIS rebels.

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

Russia Tells Lebanon To Close Its Airspace Due To “Military Drills”

The Daily Star, a Lebanese news outlet, reports:

Lebanon’s air traffic is expected to witness severe disruptions over the next three days due to Russian “military drills” set to take place in the Mediterranean Sea, a source from Beirut’s International Airport told The Daily Star.

Walid Joumblatt, leader of the Druze PRogressive Socialist Party in Lebanon, reports:

The Lebanese, however, whether on their own or out of political pressure, have refused the request. Jerusalem Post reports:

Moscow wants to conduct a three-day naval exercise starting at midnight (2200 GMT) which could affect civilian flights in Lebanese airspace, Lebanon’s National News Agency said on Friday, citing a telegram from the Russian navy.

“The Russians have asked the Directorate of Civil Aviation authority in Lebanon to divert the routes of planes in a specific area over the international waters where they are planning to conduct the exercise,” Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter said.

“This (disruption would have been) for three days but we refused because it is against our interests,” he said.

A Russian Defense Ministry official in Moscow declined any immediate comment. Russia has been carrying out air strikes against various insurgents in Syria for nearly two months.

Reuters has more details:

Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter told Reuters earlier on Friday Lebanon had refused Moscow’s request to divert civilian flights from over the area in international waters where they are planning to conduct the exercise.

Flight paths from Lebanon are limited because the national carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) does not fly over Israel and other airlines have avoided flying over Syria.

MEA Chairman Mohamad al-Hout told Reuters that flights could be diverted over Cyprus and that it did not appear flights would be cancelled as a result of the training exercises.

“The decision should be taken by the Lebanese government. They are working on opening an air corridor above Cyprus and if it doesn’t work we will stick to the current lines. Until now there is no decision to suspend flights.”

James Miller

Russian Presence in Syria Doubles to 69 Planes in Air Force Making 143 Flights a Day; 10 Ships Also in Fleet
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to President Vladimir Putin today that the Russia air force group in Syria has doubled in size, Gazeta.ru reported, citing RIA Novosti.
“The size of the aviation group is doubled and up to 69 planes,” said Shoigu.

Shoigu said Russia was running 143 flights a day. There are also 10 ships battling the terrorists in Syria, of which 6 are in the Mediterranean Sea, he said.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russian Air Force And Navy Conduct Massive Strikes Across Syria

The Russian Air Force carried out another series of cruise missile and strategic bombing sorties in Syria today, while the Caspian Fleet fired 18 Kalibr missiles for the first time since October.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the cruise missiles fired from the Caspian struck targets in Raqqa, Idlib and Aleppo. This means that non-ISIS rebels were amongst the targets, as has been the case throughout the air campaign.

The Russian MOD claimed that more than 600 militants had been killed during a multiple cruise missile strike in the Deir ez-Zor province this morning. Such high numbers are hard to take seriously without any proof however.

Another MOD video shows Tu-95 and Tu-160 bombers launching cruise missiles, and Tu-22M3s releasing salvos of unguided bombs on what appears to be an oil facility.

One interesting detail of the video is that we can see that a Tu-95 Bear being escorted by two Iranian F-14 Tomcats:



All of the Russian strategic bombers operating over Syria are flying out of bases in the Russian Federation. They must therefore fly over the Caspian Sea and via Iran and Iraq to reach their targets. There is no way to tell if these Iranian fighters are escorting the Bears through Iranian airspace, or accompanying them all the way to Syria. There was speculation last year that Iranian jets were operating over Iraq.

Evidence from the ground does suggest that some of the raids targeted ISIS-held territory in the Raqqa area: 

But many other strikes were conducted on rebel-held areas, far from ISIS forces.

This video purportedly shows another cruise missile flying over the Idlib province: 
One missile struck the town of Ma’arat al-Numan, which has been subjected to intense bombardment since the air campaign began on September 30.

At least one cruise missile appears to have malfunctioned and exploded in mid-air over Idlib:

A little further south, in the north of the Hama province, a Russian Tu-160 bomber, escorted by an unidentified fighter, was filmed overhead.

Activists reported missile strikes on rebel positions on Mount Shashabo in Hama:

There were also air strikes on Daraa, in the southwest, and the Jobar suburb of Damascus:

— Pierre Vaux