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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
October 5, 2015

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Speaker of Parliament Denies Ground Troops Will Take Part in Syria Operation

Despite claims from US officials (see previous update below), Russian speaker of parliament Valentina Matvienko said Russia would not take part in ground operations in Syria, Interfax reported (translation by The Interpreter):

"We are not planning to take part and we will not take part in any ground operations; therefore we will not be dragged into resolving the internal Syrian conflict for a long time.


She emphasized that the Russian air strikes in Syria were to support the actions of the regular Syrian Army against terrorists, noting that ISIS is a threat to the entire world and Russian national security in particular.

As we've been reporting, ISIS has not been Russia's primary target in Syria.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
US Says Russia Sending Ground Troops Readying For Offensive In Syria

CNN reports that, according to US officials, the Russian military in northwest Syria contains weapons that could be used in a direct ground assault on rebel positions:

The equipment includes several piece of artillery, as well as four BM-30 multiple-launch rocket systems -- all considered to be highly accurate weapons. The latter is capable of rapid-fire rocket launches.

Several weeks ago, Russia moved about half a dozen artillery pieces into Latakia port.

The U.S. originally had thought that might be for defense of the port, but the latest move is an indication of potential ground attacks in the coming days, the official said.

The weapons have been spotted between Homs and Idlib and west of Idlib.

It's important to note that there are no ISIS positions in this area:

The BM-30 "Smerch" mentioned above is a multiple-launch rocket launcher with 12 barrels and a maximum firing range of 90 kilometers, making it a highly effective weapon. Since the minimum distance of the Smerch's warheads is 20-25 kilometers it does not make a good defensive weapon. Instead, this weapon could help Russia launch an offensive mission.

Furthermore, such weapons can fire if bad weather grounds Russian aircraft which have, presumably, also been actively scouting for bombing locations while they have been conducting their missions. That could come in handy:

-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russian Admiral, Head of State Duma's Defense Committee Says Russian Volunteers Likely to Fight in Syria
Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, head of the State Duma Committee, said it is possible Russian volunteers who fought in the Donbass may be fighting with Syrian government forces, RBC.ru reported, citing Interfax.
"As the well-known [Soviet-era] song has it, 'you can't stop those Komsomol [Young Communist League] volunteers.' And most likely there will appear among the ranks of the Syrian Army a formation made up of Russian volunteers, participants in combat."

Komoyedov was responding to queries about sightings of volunteer Russian fighters who had earlier fought in the Donbass. A well-known commander who fought at the Donetsk Airport whose call sign is "Motorola" (Arseny Pavlov) was said to be in Syria, although separatist press denies this and have cited reports that he was seen in Donetsk. Even so, Kommersant has reported that others seasoned in combat in the Donbass are now in Syria.

According to Komoyedov, Russian volunteers will be drawn to Syria because of the high pay, which is said to be $50 (US) per day.

He also said Russia's Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea could be used to blockade parts of the Syrian coastline or shell Islamist groups, Moscow Times reported, although there was  "currently no need to use naval firepower because the extremists were too far inland."

The Kremlin has said that it does not plan to launch ground troops in Syria, and that assistance to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad will be limited to air strikes on the positions of ISIS and similar terrorist groups. The Russian General Staff has said formally that draftees will not be sent to Syria, and the Kremlin says, for now, they do not anticipate using either volunteers or contract soldiers.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced last week he is ready to send his troops to Syria, and says not only Russia's air power but ground forces are needed. He said thousands of Chechen volunteers are ready to take place in a ground operation against ISIS.

Last year, Kadyrov at first denied that there were Chechens fighting in the Donbass, but then later conceded there were volunteers there, and then announced recently that all Chechens fighting in Ukraine were being withdrawn.

Late in September, the Russian business daily Kommersant   interviewed Bondo Dorovskikh, a Russian fighter who took part in battles in Donetsk and Lugansk (see our previous report on Dorovskikh's experience in Donbass, "Life Among the Thugs.")

Dorovskikh said he had already sent 12 Russian volunteers to Syria who had acquired combat experience in the Chechen wars and other "local conflicts." Another small group of fighters was waiting to be sent as well.

Dorovskikh, born in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, ran a small oil company in Ivanovo until 2011, then moved to Moscow to run a construction business. He decided to join the "militia" in 2014 but found it frustrating (translation by The Interpreter):

"Rather quickly I found out quite frankly there was nothing to fight for. First we retreated, then we advanced again, then we began to observe the Minsk agreements, then everything went quiet."

He said the local population accused the Russian-backed separatists of unleashing the conflict, so he wound up going home last March.

Although the admission of Dorovskikh could mean other mercenaries are involved, Kommersant said there was not "mass participation" of volunteers and that mainly so far "it's at the level of rumors."

Dorovskikh himself said he believed not as many Russians would want to volunteer in Syria:

"It's too costly, the logistics are difficult, it's not very clear who you should get in touch with in order to join the military formations. It would be ideal to fight on the side of Assad, but the Syrian military bureaucrats have ignored are inquiries."

Georgy Mirsky, chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Science's Institute for World Economy and International Relations confirms this perception: Russians are not going to go in large masses to Syria as they did to Ukraine, he said:

"People went to fight in Ukraine with an idea, that the fascists are killing Russian people there, that this is Russian land, but why would they die for the Middle East? To help some Arabs kill other Arabs?"

He believes there will be no more than a few dozen Russian volunteers.

Kommersant said according to its sources in the Russian General Staff, there are only military specialists training Syrian government forces in how to use armor, and also GRU [military intelligence] and SVR [foreign intelligence] officers attached to the Russian Embassy, including soldiers whose job it is to guard Russian personnel. There are also construction workers who are modernizing the Russian base in Tartus. 

The sources claim there are no Russian soldiers in combat, however the fact that the State Duma's defense committee chair is acknowledging the presence of volunteers and that the pay is high by Russian standards means more are likely to appear.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick


The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Russia Acknowledges Violation Of Turkish Airspace

Russia's Interfax news agency reports that the Russian embassy in Ankara has acknowledged that a Russian Air Force jet did indeed enter Turkish airspace on October 3. 

Igor Mityakov, press secretary at the embassy, told Interfax (translated by The Interpreter):

"Indeed, this incident took place. On Saturday there was a meeting (between the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov - Interfax) and the first deputy foreign minister of Turkey. We were informed of the incident and presented with the corresponding note.

As far as I know,  the Turkish embassy in Moscow's military attache has been given an explanation on this matter."

-- Pierre Vaux

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Videos Suggest Russian Air Force Using Cluster Munitions Against Rebel-Held Kafr Halab

Several videos uploaded yesterday appear to show cluster munitions being dropped by Su-24 bombers over the rebel-held town of Kafr Halab, south-west of Aleppo.

Several replies on social media suggest that the weapons used are SPBE-D anti-tank submunitions, released from RBK-500 cluster bombs.
This Rossiya24 video focuses on the weapons system, built by the Bazalt factory. 

The weapon has a very distinctive attack profile. Submunitions are ejected from the RBK-500 and slowed by parachutes. Infrared seekers detect heat sources (vehicle engines in theory) and high-energy kinetic penetrators are fired towards the targets. The blasts seen in the air are the result of the firing of these penetrators. 

Russia is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions and has used such weapons during the Georgian and Ukrainian wars.

On October 2 the Cluster Munition Coalition called on Russia to refrain from using cluster munitions in Syria:

“We urge the Russian Federation to not use any cluster munitions,” Megan Burke, Director of Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) said. “These weapons have been banned because they are indiscriminate and unreliable, causing major humanitarian problems and risks to civilians. The people of Syria have already suffered enough.” 

-- Pierre Vaux

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