Russia, Iran and Syria struck their agreement to deploy military forces in June, several weeks before Assad's July 26 speech, according to a senior official in the Middle East who was familiar with the details.
And Russian sources say large amounts of equipment, and hundreds of troops, were being dispatched over a series of weeks, making it hard to hide the pending operation.
Yet a senior U.S. administration official said it took until mid-September for Western powers to fully recognise Russia's intentions. One of the final pieces of the puzzle was when Moscow deployed aircraft flown only by the Russian military, eliminating the possibility they were intended for Assad, the official said.
Even from my keyboard, I was speculating in June 2015 that Russia could intervene in Syria (see here, here, here, and here).
It wasn't until August that it seemed like a real possibility to me--although I figured Assad had taken too many casualties to hold despite that (as long as the rebels and terrorists retained the will to fight)--yet I recognized the path to Assad's survival:
... I think Assad has suffered too many casualties to hold without significant outside help (Gosh, where would Iran get the cash for that? And would Russia commit troops for at least a symbolic presence? Would Kerry rescue Assad with another stupid diplomatic deal?) and perhaps plentiful use of chemical weapons to terrorize enemies into a ceasefire.
But then, Russian intervention had been on my radar screen since 2012.
I still don't think Assad has the edge in the war if it can be drawn out. Assad needs the rebels to collapse from poor morale by thinking they are fighting a lost cause and can't count on outside help to fight Assad.
The latter is Kerry's job, of course. The Russian military can't do it all, eh?