Russian front-lines bombers head to Syria as Idlib ceasefire collapses

By News Desk -2020-04-02

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:25 A.M.) – The Russian military has redeployed some of its front-line bombers to Syria amid the expiration of the Moscow Agreement, which called for the withdrawal of all militant groups from the M-4 Highway (Aleppo-Latakia Highway).

Citing the Telegram channel RadioSkaner, the Russian publication Avia.Pro reported that a couple of Su-24 jets have recently arrived at the Hmeimim (var. Khmeimim) Airbase in the southwestern region of the Latakia Governorate.

“Today, a couple of Su-24 bombers (airborne 96 RED and 94 RED) arrived at the Khmeimim airbase in the framework of the planned rotation, quietly, without noise and dust. We went WITHOUT a leader this time, a standard route through Iran with a planned refueling from two IL-78 tankers over the waters of the Caspian Sea,” the RadioSkaner report said.

“It should be clarified that the departure of the bombers from the Khmeimim airbase to Russia was not recorded, which, most likely, may indicate not a rotation of forces, but a buildup of forces of the Russian airborne forces in Syria, although no official comments have yet been received on this subject failed,” Avio.Pro added.

The Russian Air Force often uses its Su-24 jets when carrying out an attack against the jihadist rebels in Idlib; one of these aircraft was shot down by the Turkish military in October of 2015.

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One Russian Airbase Could Take Down Turkey’s Entire Fighter Fleet?

March 11, 2020

One Russian Airbase Could Take Down Turkey’s Entire Fighter Fleet? New Assessment Shows a Favourable Military Balance in Syria Underlying Moscow’s Success

by Aspelta for The Saker Blog

While much uncertainty remains surrounding what exactly was agreed to in Moscow regarding the ceasefire agreement in Syria’s Idlib province, or how long Turkey intends to adhere to the new ceasefire agreement, it is clear that despite its bellicosity towards Damascus, Ankara has been extremely cautious about provoking Russia or undermining the strong relationship built over the past three years. Positive relations with Russia have remained particularly critical to Turkish interests since 2016 for a number of reasons. Increasingly alienated from the Western Bloc and its Gulf Arab allies, which are strongly suspected of having at least tacitly supported an attempted military coup that year, Turkey needed to quickly diversify its sources of economic and military security. Moving quickly to make amends for the downing of a Russian Su-24 strike fighter a year prior in November 2015, Turkey arrested the F-16 pilots responsible for the attack. Ankara subsequently saw its relations with Moscow quickly improve to the benefit of both sates – from the S-400 deal to growing exchange of tourists.

Russia for its part has a big stick to complement the carrot of positive defence and economic ties, and is capable of reigning in Turkish ambitions over Syria to a large extent accordingly. Alongside sanctionscutting the flow of tourists and other economic measures, Russia has heavily fortified its position in Syria since November 2015 to deter attacks by Turkey and other potentially hostile parties. It has capitalised on this asset in a number of ways, more conspicuously by deploying Su-35 fighters to intercept Turkish incursions into Syrian airspace and more recently by deploying its Military Police to guard the strategically critical M4 and M5 highways and the city of Sarakeb. These targets were directly in the path of advancing Turkish backed Islamist militias in the first week of March, and with these militants relying heavily on Turkish air and artillery support to advance and take ground from the Syrian Arab Army, deployment of Russian personnel in tandem with the opening of negotiations drew a line under how much Moscow was willing to tolerate the jihadist push into Syrian territory.

What it is important to keep in mind is not only that Turkey needs Russia far more than vice versa – but also that, in regards to Syria, the balance of power between the two parties remains extremely one-sided. While NATO’s willingness to overtly support Turkey should it provoke an armed conflict with Russian forces remains highly questionable, an assessment of the military capabilities of both parties shows a tremendous Russian advantage in the field in the event of an armed conflict – with the far smaller size of Russian units in Syria compensated for by overwhelming technological supremacy. Underlining this often-missed point, I would strongly recommend the following video which assesses the outcome of a potential air war between Russian units at Khmeimim Airbase and the entire Turkish Air Force. This includes assets deployed to the airbase from December 2015 in response to the Turkish attack on the Russian strike fighter, such as Su-35 air superiority fighters and S-400 and S-300V4 surface to air missile systems.

A further lesson one can take from this assessment is why Turkey appears so eager to upgrade its air fleet in short order – either with the F-35 or with some combination of Russian Su-57Su-35 and MiG-35 jets, having shown interest in all three. Negotiations to acquire the Su-35 in particular, the oldest of the three designs which has been in service since 2014, was reported in October 2019 to have reached its final stages. Given the precedent set by Russia’s Su-35 deal with Egypt, which was signed in 2018 but not announced until March the following year, it remains possible that a deal has already been made for transfer of the fighters to the Turkish Air Force to complement its S-400s.

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Erdogan Loses the Battle, But the War Is Far from Over

THE SAKER • MARCH 5, 2020


New Map of Idlib with Security Corridor

Following 6 hours of grueling negotiations, including direct negotiations between Putin and Erdogan, the parties have finally agreed to the following:

  1. A ceasefire will begin at midnight.
  2. Russia and Turkey will jointly patrol the M4 highway (M5 now belongs to Damascus). A 6km buffer zone will have to be created and enforced on each side of M4 by the March 15th (see map above)
  3. Both parties have reaffirmed their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  4. Both parties have reaffirmed their commitment to a create the conditions for a return of the refugees.
  5. Both parties have reaffirmed that this conflict as no military solution.

Furthermore, there was a lot of things which were left unsaid, but understood by all:

  1. The recent military gains of the Syrian military will not be disputed and otherwise challenged. The new line of contact has now become official.
  2. Russia and Syria will continue to fight all the organizations which the UNSC has declared “terrorist” (al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, and all their franchises irrespective of any “rebranding”).
  3. Moscow remains as committed to the protection of the legitimate Syrian government as ever.

From the above we can also deduce the following:

  1. Erdogan’s Blitzkrieg has failed. Initially, the Turkish drones inflicted major damage on the Syrian forces, but the latter adapted extremely quickly which resulted in what the Russians jokingly referred to as “dronopad” which can roughly be translated as “dronerain”.
  2. The Turks were clearly shocked by the Russian decision to bomb a Turkish battalion. What apparently happened is this: two Syrian Su-22 (old Soviet aircraft) bombed the convoy to force it to stop, then a pair of Russian Su-34 (the most modern Russian all-weather supersonic medium-range fighter-bomber/strike aircraft) dropped heavy ordinance on the convoy and surrounding buildings killing scores of Turkish special forces). Both sides decided to “blame” the Syrians, but they don’t fly Su-34, and everybody knows that.
  3. Erdogan understood that he either had to double down or declare victory and leave. He wisely chose the latter, at least as a temporary measure.
  4. Neither NATO nor the EU showed any signs of wanting to join Turkey’s war on Syria (because that is what we are really dealing with here), and neither did the US. Since I cannot call that decision “wise” (there is no wisdom of any kind left in western regimes), I will call it simply “prudent” as Russia was not about to allow Turkey to invade Syria.
  5. Iran, Hezbollah, and Libya all declared their willingness to fight the Turks for as long as needed and anywhere where needed.

In spite of these developments, it is pretty clear that internal Turkish politics will continue to force Erdogan to engage in what is politely called “neo-Ottoman” policies aka phantom pains for a lost empire. The obvious solution for Russia is to further arm the Syrians, especially with modernized versions of the Pantsir SAMs which have proven very effective against drones, MLRS rockets and even mortars.

The main Syrian problem is a lack of numbers. Until more forces are equipped, trained, deployed and engaged, the Russians need to provide a much stronger air defense capabilities to Syria. The Syrians have done miracles with old, frankly outdated, Soviet equipment (which, considering its age and lack of proper maintenance, has performed superbly), but now they need much better Russian gear to defend not only against Turkey, but also against the Axis of Kindness (US+Israel+KSA).

Furthermore, it is my opinion that the Russian task force in Khmeimim and Tartus is too big and not well balanced. Khmeimin needs many more Su-25SM3 and a few more Su-35S/Su-30SM to protect them. The naval base at Tartus lacks ASW capabilities, as does much of the Russian naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean. And while the Russian Navy has a number of ships with “Kalibr” cruise missiles onboard, their numbers are, again, inadequate, which means that the Russian Aerospace Forces need to deploy as many Kalibr-capable aircraft in southern Russia as possible. Both Tartus and Khmeimim are pretty close to the Idlib province (that is also were the “good terrorist” tried to strike Russian forces from which, thanks to the successful Syrian offensive, they now cannot do anymore!). This suggests to me that Russia ought to declare a larger exclusive air control zone over both of this locations, and beef up the numbers of missiles and launchers the Russian air defenses will have to enforce it.

Finally, I think that Erdogan has outlived his utility for Russia (and for Turkey, for that matter!). He clearly is a loose cannon which, according to some rumors, even the Turkish public opinion is getting fed up with. Russia should not neglect that public opinion. Then there are the Libyans, “Field Marshal” Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, whose forces seems to have been extremely successful against the Turkish forces in Libya. The Russians are, quietly, supporting Haftar who, while not exactly an ideal ally for Russia, can prove useful. What the Russians need to do next is to explain two things to Erdogan and his ministers:

  1. If you attack again in Syria, you will be defeated, possibly worse than the first time around
  2. If you mess with our geostrategic interests, we will mess with yours

The only party which the Russians should never arm are the Kurds, who are even more unreliable than Erdogan and who are basically an Israeli asset to destabilize Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Russia should, however, talk to the Kurds (all factions) and convince them to accept a large cultural autonomy inside Syria, Iraq and Iran. Turkey could be added to this list, but only once a trustworthy government comes to power in Ankara. Under no circumstances should Russia arm the Kurds.

Right now, the best Russian ally in the region is Syria. This is the country which Russia needs to make safe by creating a truly modern air defense network. The Russians have already done a lot towards this goal, including integrating their combat management and EW systems, but that is not enough. While Russian aid and Syrian skills have forced the Israelis to conduct mostly symbolic and ineffective air strikes, often with missiles shot from outside the Syrian airspace, and while many (most) Israeli missiles were destroyed by the Syrian air defenses, it is pretty clear that both the Turks and the Israelis feel that if they launch missiles from long distance they are relatively safe. That perception needs to be changed, not only to force the Turks and the Israelis to shoot from even further and accept even more losses, but also to show the US, NATO and Europe that the Syrian air defenses are capable of making anything short of a massive attack pointless (and a massive attack costly).

We should also note that the Turkish propaganda machine has been very effective. Yes, a lot of what they said was self-evidently “feelgood” nonsense (thousands of dead Syrians, hundred of tanks, etc.) , but their footage of a Turkish drone striking a Pantsir in Libya did, at least initially, impress those who don’t understand air defense warfare (destroying a single isolated first-generation Pantsir is not that hard, especially from right above it, but destroying a Pantsir position in which launchers protect each other is quite different. And if that Pantsir position is protected “below” (AA+MANPADS) and “above” (medium to long range SAMs), then this becomes extremely difficult).

This war is not over and it won’t be until Erdogan is removed from power. Frankly, Russia needs a stable and trustworthy partner on her southern border, and that won’t happen until the Turks ditch Erdogan. The problem here is that God only knows who might succeed him, should the Gulenists seize power, that will not be good for Russia either.

And here we come back to the murder of General Suleimani. Frankly, the Iranians are spot on: the two things which made the Middle-East into the bloody mess it has been for decades are 1) Israel and 2) the US. The end goal for the former is a one-state solution, whether accepted or imposed. The intermediate goal ought to be to get the US out of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and, possibly, Turkey. Erdogan is crazy and desperate enough (not to mention vengeful) to at least bring this intermediate goal one step closer by alienating the US and NATO. So the Russian game plan ought to be obvious: first, use military means to “contain Erdogan inside Turkey” and, next, engage in long term efforts to prepare for a post-Erdogan Turkey. Then let the SOB destroy himself.

I don’t believe that peace is possible between a secular Syria and a Takfiri-backing Turkey. And I sure don’t believe that the Takfiris can be remolded into any kind of “democratic opposition”. Thus the real end-goal for Russia and Syria will always be military victory, not “peace” (assuming that concept of “peace with the Takfiris” makes any sense at all, which it doesn’t). The Russians know that, even if they won’t admit it.

For the time being, what we see is the first phase of the Turkey-Syria war ending and for the next couple of weeks we shall see a transition into some other phase which will probably be one in which, surprise surprise, the Turks fail to remove all the Takfiri nutcases from Idlib which will then give Syria and Russia a legal reason to take direct action again. In theory, at least, Erdogan could decide to pour the Turkish armed forces across the border, but the closer they will get to Khmeimim and/or Tartus, the more dangerous the stakes for Turkey and for Erdogan personally.

The key to success for the Axis of Resistance is to make Syria too tough to crack. I hope that Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq will continue to work together, hopefully with Chinese aid, to create such a Syria.

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