Russia’s Campaign in Syria: Three Things to Know

Russia’s Campaign in Syria: Three Things to Know

November 4, 2015 11:18 am (EST)

Russia’s Campaign in Syria: Three Things to Know
Explainer Video

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.

More From Our Experts

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.

More From Our Experts

Top Stories on CFR

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?


The IMF and World Bank’s spring meetings will focus on the prospects for a soft landing after years of global economic turbulence. But major challenges remain, including growing climate finance needs and persistently high global debt levels.

South Korea

The center-left Democratic Party added to its legislative majority after the recent parliamentary election, which would deal a blow to President Yoon Suk Yeol’s domestic reform agenda and possibly his efforts to improve ties with Japan.