Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Lessons of Syria for Russia?

Russia is looking at their recent military actions to learn lessons for the future. Syria features prominently. Why?


The leadership of the Russian Armed Forces at the defense ministry and General Staff levels is exploiting lessons learned from the country’s recent involvement in foreign conflicts as part of a process to enhance military capability. This forms part of a much wider “lessons learned” approach to military force development and planning for future warfare that includes assessing the annual operational-strategic military exercises, studying the results of the snap inspections of military units, gleaning insights from foreign militaries, and refining planning based on Russian combat experience. This complex practical and scientific process is also influencing how Russian defense planners think about future warfare (see EDM, June 5, 2019), though most of the direct operational lessons appear focused on Syria (see EDM, December 12, 2017).

The point of this look for operational lessons of the blending of military and non-military assets in a so-called hybrid warfare environment with proxy forces?  Hybrid war could be the last point before open escalation leads to open war, risking general--and possibly nuclear--war.

The author finishes with a quote from Army General Valery Gerasimov:

“Today, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must be prepared to protect the interests of the state in a military conflict of any scale with extensive use by the enemy of both traditional and hybrid methods of confrontation” (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, July 16).

I'm honestly puzzled by the focus on Syria rather than Ukraine.

Ukraine has far more lessons for conventional combat between armies.

Syria is a contest between a Syrian military backed by foreign light infantry shock troops and Russian firepower and special forces versus light infantry holding territory.

And if the focus is hybrid warfare where an actor denies they are involved--as Russia infuriatingly does in Ukraine in defiance of evidence--why is Syria emphasized when Russia does not deny their involvement at all?

Is Syria really what the Russians see as a model for future conflict? If so, where would that be?

Where would the Russians see the need to fight large numbers of light infantry that are holding territory?

Certainly not in eastern NATO, Sweden, or Finland--or even in Ukraine any more--as well equipped armies would be the enemy holding territory.

Does Russia think Chechnya will flare up again?

Or does Russia truly believe that NATO will successfully encourage an uprising inside Russia that requires the small Russian military to re-fight the Russian Civil War across vast distances?

Does Russia see their air power plus small numbers of Russian army, airborne, National Guard, and Interior Ministry troops providing the firepower to support lightly equipped pro-government militias in combat with anti-government separatist militias?

Hey, Russia can't afford new pistols let alone new advanced tanks, stealth fighters, or aircraft carriers.

I was skeptical of Russian claims that the new National Guard was intended to protect the regime from internal threats, thinking the new force could be used to capture and pacify foreign territory (and more here).

Perhaps I am wrong, and the Russians are starting to seriously believe their paranoid fantasies of NATO efforts to destabilize Russia. After cynically claiming it for so long to rally people around the government, the rulers may have actually started to believe their BS.

Maybe my long speculation that the 1989 loss of Eastern Europe and the 1991 loss of parts of the Soviet Union's non-Russian territory are not the last word in the Russian empire's fragmentation is looming large in Putin's mind.

So things like this will seem very dangerous to the Russian leadership:

Police arrested more than 600 people as they gathered in Moscow on Saturday to demand fair local elections, the latest in a wave of protests after authorities blocked opposition candidates from the ballot paper.

Around 3,500 people took to the streets for the unauthorised rally, according to official figures. Several of the arrests were violent and police used batons against protestors, AFP reporters at the scene saw.

Will the lessons of Syria show up in Russia?