Re-Emergence: A Study of Russian Strategy in Syria, the Middle East and Its Implications

Story Stream
recent articles

Earlier this year, The Strategy Bridge asked university and professional military education students to participate in our first annual writing contest by sending us their thoughts on strategy.

Now, we are pleased to present a third-place essay from Harrison Manlove at the University of Kansas.

Russian strategy in Syria and the broader Middle East consists of supporting what it considers legitimate institutions through extensive foreign aid programs, including economic and security assistance, political support and, as seen in Syria, direct military intervention. However, there are caveats to this strategy that include history, policy goals, and the ability to exploit lack of foreign attention to Russian activities and capabilities.

In August 1968, Soviet divisions rolled into Prague and other Czech cities to crush the Prague Spring. The West was taken by surprise. No Western intelligence service had predicted Soviet military action, despite potential signs. Major military maneuvers and exercises were held along the Czech border in the spring and summer of that year, just prior to invasion.[1] In the spring of 2008, relations between the Republic of Georgia and Russia began to deteriorate, with Georgia refusing to recognize the independence of breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian military exercises were held near the Georgian border over the summer, while separatists from both regions launched multiple attacks on Georgian forces, to which the Georgian military responded. Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, on the grounds that Georgia had committed atrocities against local populations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in its response to separatist attacks. It was considered a strategic surprise in the West.[2] The annexation of Crimea in March of 2014 stunned Western governments. As massive protests—called Maidan—rocked the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in late 2013 and early 2014, the Russian military conducted huge military exercises on the Ukrainian border. Lack of intelligence sources resulted in Western surprise at the speed of the annexation and the confusion of unmarked armored vehicles and armed men taking control of various government buildings, airports, and military bases on the peninsula.[3] Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (which Russia denies) caught U.S. intelligence agencies off guard, highlighting the importance of strategic surprise in Russian actions and how it exploits institutional weakness and defense measures.[4] In an interview with U.S. Naval Institute News, Inspector of the German Navy, Vice Adm. Andreas Krause said, “We were very optimistic in 1989”, referencing the hope for peace after the fall of the Soviet Union. “2014 came like a surprise.”[5]

Clearly, the end of the Cold War still influences major perceptions as to the ways in which Russia projects power and undermines state authority, even to the point of military engagement and annexation. Paying attention to Russian activities is imperative to understanding potential future actions and measures of influence. This essay will highlight several factors playing major roles in determining Russian overseas operations and projection of influence, ultimately culminating in a broader theory of victory. The intervention and the force deployed can be explained by Russia’s strategic goals in Syria, national security concerns, and its involvement in previous conflicts that build a picture of its theory of victory: control, the underlying value of which is power, oftentimes created and sustained through dependency on Russian economic and security assistance, if not direct influence via military presence. This is by no means an apologia for Russian actions taken throughout the course of the civil war. It should, however, serve as a warning to current and future Western leaders as to patterns of Russian behavior and how it explains strategies employed throughout a variety of conflicts and regions.

Russian President President Vladimir Putin addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (Mary Altaffer/AP)


In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly in a decade, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out Russian support for the UN and its founding values, scolded activities by Western nations operating in the Middle East as part of the coalition opposing the so-called Islamic State and offered a Russian view of the region and ideas to aid the fight to defeat the them. An important aspect of the speech saw Mr. Putin advocating legitimacy of a state’s authority, specifically Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, calling the regime there the “legitimate government of Syria.” Putin criticized “foreign interference” in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, referring to Western political and military support to revolutions during the 2011 Arab Spring, and called that support:

Rather than bringing about reforms, an aggressive foreign interference, has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the [Middle East] lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty, and social disaster. Nobody cares a bit about human rights.[6]

Mr. Putin pointed out, “Russia has always been consistently fighting against terrorism in all its forms” and made clear Russia’s support for regional powers “who are fighting terrorist groups” and embroiled in severe internal conflicts.[7] Putin espoused the need for the defeat of the Islamic State, with a coalition backed by international law to do so, continued support and assistance for embattled countries in the region, and “a comprehensive strategy of political stabilization, as well as social and economic recovery, of the Middle East.”[8] In dramatic form and without waiting for a reply to calls for a coalition, despite the lack of replies in the first place, the Russians began to move. Despite analysis indicating the potential for Russian intervention in Syria, U.S. and Western intelligence agencies were caught flat-footed serving only to exacerbate a problem identified by U.S. Congressman Devin Nunes: “The failure to understand Putin’s plans and intentions has been the largest intelligence failure since 9/11.”[9]

Congressman Devin Nunes in 2018 (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia)

Russian perceptions of the West are often hostile, due to actions taken by Western countries around regions which Russia considers to be within its sphere of influence. The projection of power is thus viewed as a defensive measure to counter what is seen in Russia as Western aggression. In addition, projection shows the ability to operate on the international stage, lending lost credibility to a once great power with the ultimate goal of showing “that Russia matters.”[10]

In Syria, this broad element of Russian strategy has shown itself with the deployment of new and untested military equipment. In addition, similarities in forces deployed were drawn with Russian involvement in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. For Putin, this is an attempt to show not only that Russia matters, but so does his military and its ability to use hard power to wield influence and establish some level of control in an incredibly complex conflict and region.  


In the 1950s, Soviet policy towards the Middle East under General Secretary Khrushchev was a departure from the era of Stalin. The new strategy focused on taking the initiative in bringing developing countries under Soviet economic and political influence, while “Mr. Khrushchev, perhaps adopting elements of a policy already broached by Mr. Malenkov, had decided to break into the uncommitted countries of the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent and to turn this vast area into a battleground in a struggle against the West fought with political, economic, and propaganda weapons.” 

In addition, the strategy was meant to be “highly mobile,” with Khrushchev expecting “to force the unsuspecting Western powers [onto] the defensive.”[11] Considering the recent decolonization of Middle Eastern countries at the end of the 1940s, the Soviets were challenged with fiercely independent nations in the region. In late 1953, however, Egyptian radio began making “friendly comments on Soviet policy.” Trade delegations visited the Soviet Union in 1954, inking deals on agricultural products, while a Soviet cultural center was opened in Cairo. Quite simply, Soviet “economic and political penetration” of the Middle East had begun. The decision to sell arms to countries in the Middle East may have been informed by the nearness of the region geographically and a desire to drive out Western powers quicker by “exploiting rivalries and differences between the Arab states.”[12] On the other hand, a regional defense cooperation between the United States and Middle East nations—the Baghdad Pact—was established that worried the Soviets with the potential for Western overseas bases within member states. Economic and security assistance was seen as the quick-fix to Western influence in the region, but did not replace the ultimate goal of driving out Western influence all together.

Nikita Khrushchev (Getty Images)

Egypt enjoyed the purchase of military arms from both Western countries and the Soviet Union out of “political independence.”[13] Saudi Arabia and Yemen were both offered  the chance to purchase equipment from the Soviets. Syria also received political and economic support, in addition to arms deals. The Soviets offered to build an oil refinery in Syria that would assist Soviet advisers there. In addition, both Soviet and Syrian Legations were upgraded to embassy status in late 1956.[14]


Tracing relations between Russia and Syria reveals long-term Soviet foreign policy goals and their re-emergence under Vladimir Putin. Syria was once a French colony and, following its independence in the mid-1940s, received early diplomatic support and recognition from the Soviet Union. In fact, a secret agreement was reached between Syria and the Soviet Union just prior to independence that “prescribed the provision of diplomatic and political support of USSR to Syria in the international arena” and “Soviet military help for the foundation of the national army of that country.”[15] Soviet-Syrian relations continued to blossom throughout the Cold War with “each conflict and war that broke out in the Middle East [acting] as a factor that had led Syria [to] approach [the] USSR more closely.”[16] 

Following the 1963 coup, which saw the Ba’athist party gain control over the government and military, the new leadership sought to expand relations with Soviet Union. Initially, suspicion between the two was rooted in Soviet mistrust of Arab socialism.[17] This mistrust changed, however, when Marxist doctrine made its way into the Syrian Congress. As relations continued to warm between the Soviets and the coup government, Soviet aid increased after a fairly steep decline from 1962-1964.[18] Political and economic aid were central in the early stages of Soviet support, but regularly saw the Soviets caution themselves as Syria’s political situation and climate “often confused the Soviets.”[19] Another coup in early 1966, this time taking place within the Ba’ath party, added to the political turmoil and confusion faced by the Soviets. Far-left elements of the party sought to introduce communist principles and personnel into the government. Shake-ups within Ba’ath Party leadership meant to consolidate party strength created weakness in broader support across Syria and internationally.[20] Thus, the Soviet Union remained the only major international backer of the new Syrian government, which bolstered the relationship and its regional position to an extent. Soviet attempts to maintain and support communist elements of the Syrian regime made clear their goals for the region. The Soviets supported the revolutionary Arabs of the region, influenced heavily by Nasser of Egypt, who held Soviet support of his own, in order to promote socialist and communist ideologies and political parties.[21]

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency began reporting a Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean region in the early 1970s. A CIA report from June of 1973 states, “Soviet naval activity in the Norwegian and Mediterranean Seas and the north-western Pacific Ocean reflects an orientation toward anti-navy missions” and “the USSR’s newest and best armed ships usually operate in these areas.”[22]  Exercises in the area “indicate the primary to counter the carriers and submarines of the US Sixth Fleet” and “a secondary mission is the interdiction of NATO shipping.”[23] Soviet political objectives were clearly more of a priority in the demonstrably stronger show of force and deployment of equipment to the area. It certainly provided a stronger backing for the goal of global communism to be implemented in the region. The report continues, “Mediterranean operations are politically more useful to the Soviets than Atlantic and Pacific naval activity. By providing a counter to the US Sixth Fleet, the Mediterranean Squadron lends credence to the Soviets’ self-appointed role of protector of the Middle East.”[24] The Soviets made use of the “political role of the Mediterranean Squadron” with “occasional joint exercises with littoral states such as Syria.”[25]  Physical military presence within Syria began to take shape around this time as the CIA also reported, “The Soviets appear to be developing some support capabilities in Syria. Soviet warships now routinely call at Tartus and make frequent visits to Latakia.”[26]

However, Soviet support was seemingly more limited than the Americans and Arabs may have originally thought. A 1976 report from the RAND Corporation makes clear Soviet reservations regarding direct military support for its Arab allies in the event of a war, as it would put it at odds with the U.S. The Soviets also worried about Arab performance, as the report notes, “If the Arabs did poorly, Soviet prestige and credibility as an ally would be in jeopardy; pressures could rise for direct Soviet involvement to save the situation.”[27]

A 1976 CIA report details strain within the Soviet-Syrian relationship. Some of these factors include “Syrian resistance to Soviet attempts to obtain greater use of Syrian port facilities” and “Syria’s increasing inclination to look to Western rather than Soviet sources for goods and technology.”[28] The report continues on to detail Syrian desires to replace the Soviets with Syrian personnel as soon as this is feasible,” a continuation of Syrian wishes to become a more self-sufficient force that is not reliant on a larger state like the Soviet Union. Finally, after referencing the frequent naval presence at Tartus, the report specifically states, “The Soviets apparently would like to establish shore-based naval facilities in Syria that would be under Soviet control, but have so far been unable to secure Damascus’ agreement,” which closely identifies with the current Russian presence on the Syrian littoral.[29]

As the 1970s continued, Syria continued to drift from Moscow and, in more than one instance, deal with the U.S. instead. The Syrian invasion of Lebanon in 1976 saw rebuke from Moscow and even Soviet aid to the Palestinian Left, who opposed Christian forces backed by Syria. In addition, “there were rumours that the Russians were raising obstacles regarding certain Syrian arms orders.”[30] This strain showed Syria’s continued desire for independent action while still enjoying Soviet support, a common trend with Middle East states.

Hafez al-Assad in March 1985 on his election to a third term as President of Syria. (AFP)

Relations between Syria and the Soviet Union continued throughout the 1980s. Economic and security assistance flowed to the regime under Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar, the current Syrian leader. In June 1982, Israel commenced operations in Lebanon attacking and destroying units of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and large numbers of Syrian aircraft and armored vehicles.[31] The Soviets said nothing in support of its ally, but quickly worked to remedy the ensuing loss of regional prestige and credibility. Soviet technicians and new long range air defense systems deployed to Syria, with security provided by Soviet airborne units and short range surface-to-air missile batteries. By 1983, some 8,000 Soviet advisers were present in Syria. Diplomatic visits continued throughout the mid-1980s, with Soviet and Syrian officials each frequently visiting the other’s capitals. Prior to the withdrawal of Soviet advisers from Syria in early 1985, Soviet troop presence there was at its highest, even surpassing that of the Soviet deployment to Egypt leading up to the former’s expulsion by then-President Gamal Nasser in 1972.[32]

Soviet engagement in the Middle East is clearly reflected in Syria today, and the overall broader region, with a similar set of policies and strategy that includes “political-diplomatic efforts, aid and trade, military assistance, and force projection.”[33] Russian diplomatic relations with Syria and the broader Middle East had to be rebuilt following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.[34] Russo-Syrian relations were a shadow of what was once a fairly strong relationship that provided Syria with the the near-latest in Soviet military technology and the Soviets with strategic positioning in the Mediterranean with naval facilities at Tartus. The rebuilding of this relationship would take years, but was imperative to any Russian ideas of a renewed strategic presence in the Mediterranean.


Su-24 bombers of the Russian Aerospace Forces at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. (Sputnik/Dmitriy Vinogradov)

In late 2015, Russian forces in Syria included an array of land, air, and naval units indicative of the level of complexity of its operations there. Using Russian state media reports and other outlets, Russian air assets could almost be completely accounted for. Over two dozen Su-24 fighter-bomber and Su-25 ground attack aircraft were spotted at the primary Russian air base, Khmeimem, in Latakia.[35] Su-30SM bombers and Su-34 multi-role aircraft were also deployed, with the Su-34 making its combat debut. Larger aircraft, such as the Tu-160 and Tu-90MS strategic bombers, also made appearances over Syrian skies.[36] Russian fixed-wing aircraft have been the bulk of Russia’s air component in Syria, with a smaller number of rotary wing aircraft that include the Mi-8 transport, the Mi-24 attack helicopter, and new variants of the Mi-28 attack helicopter, three of the most recognizable pieces of Russian military hardware.[37] The Ka-52 attack helicopter, a variant of the Ka-50, also made its combat debut.[38]

Early Russian ground forces included several battalions of marines and soldiers deployed for force protection of Russian bases and equipment. Special forces elements (Spetsnaz) were also deployed. Russian ground vehicles ranged from the BTR-82A to the T-90 main battle tank and several electronic warfare jamming stations.” Artillery consisted of 2A65 Msta-B howitzers and multiple launch rocket  systems (MLRS), with the former providing fire support to Syrian Army forces in several instances.[39]

Naval forces deployed to the Mediterranean Sea have proven vital in sustaining Russian operations in Syria. Combat ships deployed in 2015 ranged from missile cruisers to frigates, corvettes, and various types in between, with some ships armed with the Kalibr cruise missiles. Russian ships provided greater fire support capability, supplemented intelligence gathering, and increased air-defense capabilities to the overall deployment. In April 2015, a Russian naval task force, consisting of combat and support vessels, participated in maritime exercises with Chinese warships in the Mediterranean. The lead Russian ship in the exercise, the missile cruiser Moskva, displayed its capabilities in live fire drills and in later exercises in East Asia, conducted in the summer of 2015, just prior to operations in Syria.[40]

The Russian Cruiser Moskva (Russian Ministry of Defense/Wikimedia)

Wide military reforms took place following issues with performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, despite that conflict lasting a mere five days. In 2010, the Russian military reformed its system of logistics and established what became known as Materiel-Technical Support (materialnotekhnicheskogo obespechniia, MTO).[41] This new system of combat supply was tested in several major military exercises. Later exercises, like the one conducted in September 2015—called Tsentr 2015—were used to transport equipment to Syria in preparation for the coming deployment. Russia relied primarily on the cheaper route of transport to Syria, the Turkish Straits, which became known as the Syria Express. However, Russia did not rely on one method of transportation, instead using both air and sea lines of communication to transport equipment to Syria prior to and throughout the intervention, with both lines of communication still in use. The landing ship Alexander Otrakovskii sailed north through the Turkish Straits in July 2015, passing back thru in October, indicating “considerable pre-planning since at least early 2015.”[42] Russia’s reformed military logistics system has played an integral part in sustaining the intervention and showcasing the development of an essential element of Russia’s armed forces since 2008.

Russian counterinsurgency operations in Syria have generally been limited to close air support in Syrian military offensives, a small contingent of special operations forces, and a complement of ground forces that have provided base security since the start of Russian operations. Naval forces have provided support fires via naval aviation and Kalibr cruise missiles launched from ships off the Syrian coast. Moscow’s official ground presence appears limited. However, the deployment of private military contractors has supplemented Moscow’s desire to operate on the front lines discreetly and without creating potential backlash at home with the deaths of service-members. These contractors have also appeared in the Ukraine conflict, in which Russia denies involvement.[43] Reporting on contractors has been difficult due to their sensitive nature politically for Moscow and the tight-lipped members of these private units.

In February 2018, Russian contractors were part of an operation to secure a vacant oil field alongside a pro-government militia. Controlled by U.S.-backed opposition forces, the oil field and a nearby opposition base came under attack and prompted a U.S. response via close air support. In the ensuing counterattack, dozens of contractors and militia members were killed and wounded, placing Moscow’s use of private contractors abroad at the center of international attention.

An image shared on social media of Russian mercenaries operating in Syria (Twitter)

In the spring of 2016 and 2017, Russian airstrikes and special operations forces were instrumental in giving Syrian forces the edge in capturing the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State.[44] While attention was focused on Aleppo, the city of Palmyra again fell to the Islamic State in December 2016, inflicting a major blow to Russian credibility on the ground. However, renewed operations in March 2017 re-captured the city.

Russian special operations, or Spetsnaz, have also made their mark serving alongside Syrian military units and front-line militias. Special operators have performed in an advisory role alongside Syrian units, taking part in the 2016 spring offensive in Palmyra and filling reconnaissance roles in airstrikes on Islamic State and opposition targets.[45]


Russian strategy in the Middle East can be explained through the Russian theory of victory: control.[46] The idea of control is not necessarily facilitated by means of occupied territory, but can be exemplified through security and economic assistance packages, humanitarian aid, influence over political leadership, military operations/occupation, the construction and manning of Russian military bases, and the control of media. This is evident not only in Syria, but throughout Russian operations in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and Crimea. The Russian way of warfare is part of the larger Russian attempt at spreading influence, and thereby control, in Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. As such, understanding the ways Russia has conducted its modern wars is vital to understanding its intervention in Syria. 

Close Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov is credited with naming Russia’s approach to modern warfare, calling it “non-linear war” in a 2014 short story, published just before the Crimea annexation.[47] Often referred to as hybrid warfare by the American public, it can be defined as the use of economic, political, psychological, military (conventional and irregular forces), and cyber means to subvert the interests and position of an adversary and advance one’s interests. The application of non-linear or hybrid warfare in the battlespace is part of Russian strategy to divide and conquer, thus allowing for greater Russian control over the actors and outcome of the conflict.[48,49]

In the context of counterinsurgency, Russian measures of control have appeared as support for political and/or armed groups and militias on the ground, the use of generally uncontested air power, massive fire support, and special operations advisors. Security assistance has also played a role in the application of control as noted below. In the Second Chechen War of 1999, Russian forces sought to use local militias as both supplements to ground operations and as political tools following the end of the conflict. These militias were born out of the divide and conquer element of Russian strategy in Chechnya, thus giving Moscow local allies against the Chechen resistance. The Chechen strategy saw Russian-militias eventually take power and align themselves with Moscow, which continues to this day under current leader Ramzan Kadyrov.[50]


Data on Russian foreign aid programs is difficult to come by. China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road, has taken away much scholarly analysis on Russian initiatives in the Middle East, former Soviet states, Africa, and Asia. However, Russian foreign aid has increased markedly after a drop following the fall of the Soviet Union.  

Soviet-era aid was essential to its foreign policy and the projection of communist ideology overseas. Priority regions and countries could be identified by mapping total amounts of aid and recipients of higher portions. The Middle East received massive economic and technical assistance throughout the 1950s and 1960s; the financing and construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt exemplified Soviet strategy to pull countries from Western influence.[51] 

Soviet military assistance in the 197os increased vastly from programs in the 1960s and “became one of the primary instruments, if not the primary instrument, of Soviet policies toward the developing world.”[52] From 1978 to 1982 approximately $35 billion USD of Soviet military equipment was transferred to nations in the developing world. Syria was second in total dollars of equipment, worth $8 billion USD. The number of recipients of Soviet equipment transfers increased from 29 countries in 1975 to 36 between 1980 and 1984.[53] The increase in aid also saw the quality of arms improve. Previously, Soviet arms transfers consisted of older equipment, often surplus. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, militaries of the developing world began fielding near-first-line equipment like the T-72 main battle tank and the MiG-25 interceptor aircraft.[54] Interestingly, control of Soviet air defense systems installed for the Syrians were placed under a Soviet headquarters in Damascus.[55] In addition, “non-Russians were denied access to the bases without special permission.” While developing nations did receive modern equipment, it is clear that “limits do exist on Soviet willingness to allow local militaries to assume full control of the weapons.”[56]

The collapse of the Soviet Union left a hole in Russian aid programs. Major internal disorganization hindered the ability to exercise a strong foreign policy beyond the immediate Russian periphery. While aid programs were virtually dormant during the 1990s, they were slowly restored under President Putin and then under President Dimitri Medvedev in the mid-2000s.

Russian military aid increased greatly in the weeks preceding the intervention in Syria. In a speech in Tajikistan, President Putin defended the increase as a means to support “the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression.”[58] He also made clear that Russian assistance to Syria would save it from a situation similar to that in Libya, distinctly characterizing the Russian role as a defender of institutions, as he said in his speech to the UN General Assembly.[59] The chaos of revolutions has often proven a fertile policy ground on which Russia can exert political might in favor of existing governments, thus tying itself to that government and its institutions in a constant battle for influence. The policy of defending institutions from terrorist threats is a primary element of Russian foreign policy and global engagement.

Aid from 2014 to 2015 increased from $876 million USD to $1.6 billion USD.[60] Syria is among those states atop the priority list, alongside Nicaragua, members of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)—consisting of former Soviet states—and Guinea.[61] The latter recipients are indicative of Russia’s objective to build good neighborliness, detailed in its 2014 aid concept policy, and a growing interest in Africa. During this time frame, aid to Africa hovered at approximately $30 million USD. This is merely a fraction of the aid sent to Nicaragua and Commonwealth members, yet signals that Africa’s role in Russian foreign policy is catching up fast to other priority regions.[62]

The 2014 Concept of Russia’s State Policy in the Field of International Development Assistance details priority areas, which include but are not limited to assisting recipient states in “improving national systems” in countering terrorism, peace building, providing essential services such as water and electricity, and the “protection of human rights.”[63] Attention to these areas is visible in Syria, but effectiveness on the ground is unclear beyond promotion by Russian state media outlets. With historical examples of abuses under both Soviet and Russian regimes, human rights violations are pervasive in current air operations.[64] As such, claims of protection of democratic processes and human rights within official documents from the Russian government often do not match realities on the ground.

Russian strategy in Syria and the Middle East is clearly marked by shaping regional security and politics thru time-tested means of forward deployed military forces on land and sea, economic and security assistance, and bi-lateral training exercises taking place in both regional states and Russia itself. Arab states are notorious in their bid to retain sovereignty over their economies and armed forces, using limited amounts of foreign assistance from both Western nations and Russia to take advantage of assistance opportunities, but protect against too much outside influence and succumbing to dependency. In a broader sense, Russia has created an independent narrative in the region. Attitudes toward the Russian military and its hardware, however flawed and accident-prone, makes clear that timely and effective Western counters to the ways in which Russia projects power and exploits fissures in policy and influence will be slow in realization and implementation.66 However, all the West needs to do is look and simply pay attention.

Harrison Manlove is a future Army officer, currently enrolled in ROTC as a junior at the University of Kansas ,where he studies History and Peace and Conflict Studies. In 2017, Harrison was a non-resident intern for the Center for Political Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, researching security issues related to Russia and China. The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U. S. Government.

This article appeared originally at Strategy Bridge.


[1] Wiegrefe, Klaus. “End of the Prague Spring: Western Spies Were Out in the Cold.” SPIEGEL ONLINE, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 21 Aug. 2008,

[2] Vergun, David. “Georgia Conflict Case of 'Strategic Surprise,' Says Expert.”, The United States Army, 10 Aug. 2015,

[3] “Russia's Putin Took European States 'By Surprise' in Ukraine: Report.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 19 Feb. 2015,

[4] Brattberg, Erik, and Tim Maurer. “Russian Election Interference: Europe's Counter to Fake News and Cyber Attacks.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 23 May 2018,

[5] “European Navies Are Grappling with Aggressive Russian, Chinese Operations in Baltic, Mediterranean.” USNI News, 11 Apr. 2018,

[6] Staff, Washington Post. “Read Putin's U.N. General Assembly Speech.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Sept. 2015,

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Miller, Greg. “As Russia Reasserts Itself, U.S. Intelligence Agencies Focus Anew on the Kremlin.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 Sept. 2016,

[10] Arutunyan, Anna. “What to Expect of President Putin's Foreign Policy in His New Term.” Crisis Group, 10 May 2018,

[11] “The Approach to the Middle East: 1953-1956.” Strategy and Tactics of Soviet Foreign Policy, by J. M. Mackintosh, Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 117.

[12] Ibid, 117

[13] Ibid, 119

[14] Ibid, 124

[15] Ibid, 126

[16] Aghayev, Elvin, and Filiz Katman. “Historical Background and the Present State of the Russian-Syrian Relations.”, Nov. 2012, p. 2066

[17] Aghayev, Katman 2066

[18] Ginat, Rami. “The Soviet Union and the Syrian Bath Regime: From Hesitation to Rapprochement.” The SHAFR Guide Online, vol. 36, no. 2, 2000, p. 157 doi:10.1163/2468-1733_shafr_sim220030053.

[19] Ibid., 156

[20] Ibid., 157

[21] Ibid., 159

[22] Ibid., 163

[23] “Soviet General Purpose Naval Deployments Outside Home Waters: Characteristics and Trends.” CIA, CIA, June 1973. P. 2

[24] Ibid., 11

[25] Ibid., 11

[26] Ibid., 11

[27] Ibid., 12

[28] Quandt, William . Soviet Policy in the 1973 October War . RAND Corp., May 1976. p. 4

[29] “Relations Between Syria and the USSR.” CIA, CIA, June 1976. p. 2

[30] Ibid., 3

[31] Golan, Galia. “Soviet Policy in the Middle East: Growing Difficulties and Changing Interests.” The World Today, vol. 33, no. 9, 1977, pp. 335–342. JSTOR, JSTOR,

[32] Papp, Daniel S. Soviet Policies toward the Developing World during the 1980s: the Dilemmas of Power and Presence. Air University Press, 1987.

[33] Ibid., 249

[34] Ibid., 255

[35] Kreutz, Andrej. “Syria: Russia's Best Asset in the Middle East.” Https://, Nov. 2010, p. 7

[36] Sutyagin, Igor. “Detailing Russian Forces in Syria.” RUSI, 13 Nov. 2015,

[37] Ibid.

[38] Karnozov, Vladimir. “Russian Kamov Ka-52 'Alligator' Sees Combat Debut in Syria.” Aviation International News, 5 Apr. 2016,

[39] Sutyagin, Igor. “Detailing Russian Forces in Syria.” RUSI, 13 Nov. 2015,

[40] Ibid.

[41] Gady, Franz-Stefan. “China and Russia Conclude Naval Drill in Mediterranean.” The Diplomat, The Diplomat, 23 May 2015,

[42] McDermott, Roger. “Russia's Strategic Mobility and Its Military Deployment in Syria .” FOI , Nov. 2015,

[43]  Nemtsova, Anna. “A Russian Blackwater? Putin's Secret Soldiers in Ukraine and Syria.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 2 Jan. 2018,

[44] Yaffa, Joshua. “Putin's Shadow Army Suffers a Setback in Syria.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 17 Feb. 2018,

[45] Barnard, Anne. “Syrian Forces and ISIS Clash at Edge of Palmyra.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Mar. 2016,

[46] Ricks, Thomas E. “Counterinsurgency: The Brutal but Effective Russian Approach.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 17 Sept. 2009,

[47] Pomerantsev, Peter. “How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 23 Sept. 2016,

[48] Stowell, Joshua. “What Is Hybrid or Nonlinear Warfare?” RealClearDefense, 15 Apr. 2018, 

[49] Haines, John. “A Method to the Madness: The Logic of Russia's Syrian Counterinsurgency Strategy.” Foreign Policy Research Institute, 5 Jan. 2016,

[50] Ibid.

[51] Asmus, Gerda, et al. “Russia's Foreign Aid Re-Emerges.” AidData - A Research Lab at William & Mary, 9 Apr. 2018,

[52] Papp, Daniel S. Soviet Policies toward the Developing World during the 1980s: the Dilemmas of Power and Presence. Air University Press, 1987.

[53] Ibid., 122

[54] Ibid., 125

[55] Ibid., 125

[56] “Russia – OECD, The Russian Federation's Official Development Assistance (ODA).” Students, Computers and Learning - Making the Connection - En - OECD, 2016,

[57] Asmus, Gerda, et al. “Russia's Foreign Aid Re-Emerges.” AidData - A Research Lab at William & Mary, 9 Apr. 2018,

[58] Kramer , Andrew. “Putin Defends Russian Military Aid to Syria.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017,

[59] Ibid.

[60] Asmus, Gerda, et al. “Russia's Foreign Aid Re-Emerges.” AidData - A Research Lab at William & Mary, 9 Apr. 2018,

[61] “Russia – OECD, The Russian Federation's Official Development Assistance (ODA).” Students, Computers and Learning - Making the Connection - En - OECD, 2016, [63] Asmus, Gerda, et al. “Russia's Foreign Aid Re-Emerges.” AidData - A Research Lab at William & Mary, 9 Apr. 2018,

[62] Asmus, Gerda, et al. “Russia's Foreign Aid Re-Emerges.” AidData - A Research Lab at William & Mary, 9 Apr. 2018,

[63] “CONCEPT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION'S STATE POLICY IN THE AREA OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Remarks and Answers to Media Questions Following a Meeting of the SCO Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, April 24, 2018 - Ministers' Speeches, 2014,

[64] “Russia Backs Syria in Unlawful Attacks on Eastern Ghouta.” Human Rights Watch, 19 Mar. 2018,

[65] Stratfor. “In Syria, the Russian Military Found the Ultimate Testing Ground.” Stratfor, Stratfor, 23 Oct. 2017,


Show comments Hide Comments