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Russia's Campaign in Syria: Three Things to Know

Speaker: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
November 4, 2015

An increase in Russian military spending, the readiness of Iran and Hezbollah to lend support, and disunity among the United States and its allies has facilitated Russia’s intervention in Syria, says CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Sestanovich. He explains why it is essential to follow these three factors to understand Russia’s campaign in Syria.

Military Ramp-Up: “Russia’s readiness to pour its own men and equipment into Syria did not come out of nowhere,” says Sestanovich. The decision came after nearly a decade of increased military spending. This modernization program “was not slowed by the crisis of 2008–2009 or by the recent economic slowdown,” he adds, although renewed debates about the Russian economy have put future increases in question.

Partners in Syria: Without partners like Iran or its affiliated Hezbollah militia group ready to support the Syrian forces on the ground, “Russia would have had to face the question of providing its own ground forces,” says Sestanovich. Putting Russian ground forces in Syria to support its air campaign would have had “far more serious domestic repercussions,” he says.

U.S. Coalition Disunity: Hesitation and disunity in the U.S.-led coalition have made Russia’s intervention in Syria much easier, says Sestanovich. “Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other states friendly to the U.S. have not worked in concert either with Washington or with each other,” he says. Still, the Russian intervention could galvanize Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents. “Washington seems ready to increase the quantity and quality of military equipment to anti-Assad forces,” says Sestanovich.

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