According to the National Interest website, the United States ruled out, years ago, Russia’s entry into Syria, which is a wrong expectation, as Russian forces and aircraft have entered the heart of the Syrian crisis.
According to the site, there are some lessons that the United States should benefit from, by reviewing Russia’s military intervention in Syria years ago, that may give indications about the current Russian-Ukrainian crisis.
4 lessons from Syria
First, the Russian intervention in Syria has focused primarily on destroying the fighting capabilities and formations of the anti-Syrian opposition, rather than on reclaiming territory.
The Kremlin made a decision to engage directly in the Syrian conflict when, in 2015, the opposition forces gained sufficient capabilities and momentum to pressure Damascus and try to remove Bashar al-Assad. This came by focusing on air power and missile strikes. The Russian task force focused on dismantling the opposition’s military formations.
Second, the Russians were keen to leave a relatively “light footprint” on the ground in Syria. They chose not to focus on occupying territory or shouldering the responsibilities of governance.
The Russians even mediated in a number of cases a ceasefire, keeping important lands for their owners, in exchange for imposing comprehensive government control, in order to restore the hegemony of the Syrian government.
Third, whenever ground forces were needed, the Russians turned to PMCs, or other irregular formations, which limited the exposure of uniformed members of the Russian armed forces and their losses.
Finally, the Russians, especially in launching Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Fleet, demonstrated Russian capabilities to launch deadly strikes from bases located within Russia’s territories. The implicit provision for the use of ships bordering the Caspian Sea was to make it clear that the main Russian capabilities did not need to go into conflict areas and endanger them.
Court strategy in Ukraine
The Russian campaign in Syria gives us indications that if the Russian government decides to use military force against Ukraine, it will focus on long-range strikes to destroy Ukrainian equipment, especially its stockpile of drones, and try to dismantle the organized military formations.
The case of Syria also revealed that the Russians would try to avoid crossing the border, whenever possible, and direct fire across the line.
The preparation of Ukrainian special forces for war, or the use of American anti-tank weapons and Russian armored vehicles, would be ineffective, in the event of a military attack similar to the one launched by Russia in Syria.
While some anticipate a ground campaign to occupy the territory, the Russian General Staff will plan to destroy the capabilities and morale of the Ukrainian army and create conditions for political turmoil.
The United States assumed that Russia would be “afraid” of the risks of going to Syria, a mistake that could now be repeated in Ukraine.