Background on Russian involvement in Syria

Russian involvement in Syria

While Russia has been supporting the Syrian government since 2011, including the use of its veto power at the security council several times until 2018, their official involvement in military activities began in 2015. On 30 September 2015, the Russian Federal Council authorised President Vladimir Putin to use force in Syria announcing the beginning of Russian military operations in Syrian territories.

That same day, spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defence, Major General "Igor Konashenkov" stated that Russian forces launched roughly twenty airstrikes, of which, precision strikes targeted eight ISIS sites in Syria. He stated: “These strikes resulted in the destruction of stores of ammunition, weapons, fuel and weapons installations. Command and control centres belonging to the armed group of the Islamic State were also completely destroyed. However the Russian air force has not targeted any civilian infrastructure.”

The official website of the Russian Ministry of Defence published a video showing several sites in Syria being targeted on 30 September 2015. The MoD stated that the aircraft that carried out the eight high-precision strikes against “ISIS” took off From Bassel al-Assad Airport (Hmeimim military base), located in the countryside of Latakia province. The Russian MoD website also announced that: “From September 30, 2015, [the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation] conducted an air operation to combat international terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Russian Ministry of Defence announcing air operation in Syria

That same day between 10:30 - 11:30 AM, several news networks and organisations reported Russian airstrikes in the town of Talbisa in Homs’ countryside, an attack which used 5 missiles. Five other airstrikes occurred in other towns and cities in Homs’ countryside that same day, including in Al Zafarana, Al Makremiya, and Al Rastan. The locations of those initial attacks were not in ISIS controlled areas based on a Russian Ministry of Defence map published on the official VK account of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

De-Escalation Zones:

Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, signed the De-Escalation Zone agreement in May 2017. This agreement was originally intended to establish a ceasefire in Idlib province, parts of Latakia, Hama, Aleppo, Homs, Damascus’ countryside, Dara’a and Quneitra provinces. However its true motive has been heavily criticised as, since the signing of the agreement, Russia conducted hundreds of airstrikes against areas within the De-Escalation zone. Syrian Archive published investigations about attacking public markets and medical facilities that is located in the de-escalation zone. Below is a map published by the Russian Ministry of Defence that shows the de-escalation zone. (de-escalation zones in blue, ISIS in grey, Syrian army in orange).

De-escalation Zone Map

The Russian Ministry of Defence published a video on their official YouTube channel on August 22nd 2018 titled “Military operation of the armed forces on the Russian Federation in the Syrian Arab Republic”. The video summarizes the operation that the Russian military carried in Syria since September 2015. The video included the following: “During the active phase of operation, the intensity of use of the aviation reached more than 100 plane flights per day. Each plane was operating 3-4 flights daily. The maximum amount was 139 flights per day, on 20 November 2015.”

The video also mentioned Russian aircraft used in carrying out its military activities. This includes a total of 34 planes (12 Su-24, 10 Su 25CM, 4 Su 30CM, 4 Su-34, 2 Su-25UB, 1 An-30,1 Il-20), 16 helicopters (12 Mi 24p, 4 Mi-8MTSh) used, as well as other types of weapons and vehicles. It also mentioned 1902 humanitarian convoys were supported providing food and medication by the Russian Ministry of Defence.

The video did not mention anything about civilian harm as a result of attacks carried out by the Russian air force in Syria. As such, Syrian Archive is highlighting civilian harm as a result of alleged Russian airstrikes in this database and report.