Putin In Syria: The First Major Regime Victory Since Russian Airstrikes Began

November 12, 2015
Troops of the Syrian army victorious at the Kweires Airport, where Russian troops helped them to regain ground.

The Syrian regime has won its first victory since Russian airstrikes were launched in Syria. Is Russia about to escalate its direct involvement on the ground?

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

New Pictures Suggest Russia Has Deployed T-90 Tanks And S-400 Missiles In Latakia

Earlier this week, Syrian rebels launched a series of attacks on Latakia, the key port city in northwestern Syria where Russia’s bases are located. At least two rockets scored direct hits to the city, killing as many as 23, according to Syrian state propaganda news. A key Syrian rebel group claimed credit for the attack, the worst attack on Latakia since the start of the war:

This week Russia is hosting a series of journalists on its base in
Latakia, and there are signs that they are eager to show off certain
pieces of military hardware.

BBC inside airbase where Russia carries out Syria airstrikes – BBC News

Russia has put forward its proposal for Syria's future in a document circulating at the United Nations in New York. The plans include a constitutional reform process in Syria, lasting 18 months, to be followed by presidential elections. Russia has been using an airbase in Latakia to carry out air strikes against rebels in Syria.

View full page →

Nov 13, 2015 03:19 (GMT)

Take, for instance, the T-90 tank, a weapon which has been rumored
to be in Syria since September. Today the first visual evidence of the
T-90 emerged:

Other military hardware made an appearance today. The Russian Ministry of Defense released an image today which appears to show part of an S-400 anti-aircraft missile system in Latakia — one of it’s most powerful weapons systems.

One pro-Kremlin microblogger who is often on the leading edge of Russian propaganda tweeted the picture with the suggestion that this was not an accidental leak:

Interestingly, the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik has been talking a lot about the S-400 in recent days:

Russia, in light of the crash of the Metrojet in Egypt, a crash which many say was an act of terrorism, may be eager to show off their counter-terrorism efforts. They may also be interested in reassuring the people of Latakia, now under attack, that Russia and the Assad regime have things under control in Syria.

Of course, today’s development also comes a day after Israeli airstrikes in Damascus:

James Miller
ISIS Issues Russian-Language Video Threatening Russia with Attack ‘Very Soon’

ISIS has released a video threatening to attack Russia “very soon,” the Jerusalem Post reported, citing the SITE intelligence group.

According to a news item today on SITE: 

Al-Hayat Media Center, the foreign language media division of the Islamic State (IS), released a Russian-language video chant threatening attacks in Russia and featuring gory scenes from beheading and gunshot execution productions.

The Jerusalem Post said that the video chant was translated as “Soon, very soon, the blood will spill like an ocean.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

ISIS Siege of Kweires Airbase In Aleppo Broken By Pro-Assad Offensive

A coalition of ground troops from the Syrian Arab Army (SAA, the Syrian regime), Hezbollah, and Iran have finally broken ISIS’s two-year -long siege of the Kweires airport, southeast of Aleppo city. Wall Street Journal reports:

Several hundred Syrian soldiers and officers at the base, which also houses an air force academy, had been under siege and frequent attack by Islamic State fighters for more than two years. It was the highest-profile success for the regime since Russia began its air campaign at the end of September to prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian regime officials have also signaled that control of Kweires and its vicinity would set the stage for wider operations to regain full control of the city of Aleppo and the surrounding countryside.

Russia and Iran are also expected to leverage the symbolic and tactical gain at Kweires when its foreign ministers meet on Saturday in Vienna with their counterparts from Arab and Western states backing Mr. Assad’s opponents. This is the second installment of talks launched two weeks ago to try to reach a political settlement for the more than four-year war in Syria.

“This is a hugely significant development and a message to America that you must forget about the military option and seriously focus on a realistic political solution,” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday about the Kweires operation. Mr. Nasrallah spoke in a televised statement broadcast during a memorial organized in Beirut’s southern suburbs for Hezbollah’s slain fighters since the group’s creation three decades ago.

The area has been heavily bombed by Russian airstrikes in the last few weeks. However, Russian airstrikes on nearby rebel groups have actually allowed ISIS to gain ground in other parts of Aleppo.

It’s unclear if the regime can keep the route to the airport open or whether the ground offensive will make further gains in the area, but this is the first regime victory since the Russian airstrikes began in September. Since then, the regime has faced significant setbacks in Hama and Latakia provinces.

James Miller