Putin learned nothing for Ukraine from the war in Syria

The ongoing war in Syria is arguably pivotal to Russia’s modern war machine, revamping its operational capabilities to prepare for future conflicts. Now that Russia is facing a test of those skills in Ukraine, it is turning into the disaster they should have seen coming.

Moscow officially lost just 112 service members over the six and a half years in Syria, compared with what it admits is 1,351 in a month in Ukraine – the real number could be much higher. And they were forced to humbly withdraw some 40,000 troops from around Kyiv and Chernihiv with no significant progress made in those areas and return to their old targets in eastern Ukraine. This raises questions about what exactly the Kremlin has learned in Syria and, more importantly, what it should have learned but clearly hasn’t.

Unlike Ukraine, the cities of Syria will never be part of the Russian Federation and therefore may be flattened. Meanwhile, its non-white population is considered foreign terrorists. Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, ISIS and hundreds of children have been portrayed before voters back home as equally fair targets. In contrast, Ukrainians are largely seen by the Russian public as Russians or at least close cousins. These factors have freed Russia to use Syria merely as a means to an end, or more specifically, two ends.

First, they use Syria as a proof-of-concept to enhance command and control coordination. Like its Soviet predecessor, the Russian military is an artillery force with armored battalions, and the powerful nature of its ground forces is not as fast and inflexible as the air or naval forces, making it difficult to This coordination becomes important. Not to mention, if such command coordination is achieved, it “would erode one of the advantages,” as the Institute for the Study of War’s lead analyst, Mason Clark, wrote in a 2021 report. important technological position of the United States and NATO”.

Second, Moscow announced its withdrawal from Syria in March 2016, then again in January 2017 and again in December of that year. Not only was this a move to put the enemy on low alert, it also helped prevent Russia from getting pulled too far into the fray, thereby minimizing damage. But equally important, it divided the war into a series of campaigns, allowing Moscow to rotate its forces through Syria, giving them plenty of combat experience. As Michael Kofman, program director for Russia studies at the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), wrote in a 2020 report, “The entire Russian military is now serving [in Syria] to advance in rank. “

According to William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), some of the lessons that have not been learned enough include the use of drones to fire artillery, the dangers of MANPADS on the contested battlefield. , and the need for secure supply lines. Each of these factors has proven to be incredibly destructive to Russian forces in Ukraine.

But the biggest lesson, he said, was how to detect, disrupt and destroy small groups of fighters, the importance of destroying not just suppressing enemy air defenses, the safe use of the system, the value of precision-guided missiles, and the benefits of engaging the enemy rather than engaging in urban warfare.

Albuquerque added that Russia has learned a few things in Syria. Specifically, “how to destroy cities, terrorist tactics to get civilians to flee, and the use of proxies as a holding force/cannon fodder.”

So what happened? It can be said that Russia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and by far the most corrupt power. Ruling a mafia state has its advantages if you’re the Godfather, but it’s difficult to know who to trust. Moscow recently purged 150 agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and sent Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB’s 5th Service, which handles intelligence in Ukraine, to Lefortovo Prison, which was used under Stalin to conduct interrogations and mass executions. One theory is that Beseda provided information to the CIA, but the official reason, possibly very true, is that he lied to the state and stole money intended for espionage activities in Ukraine. If true, this means that Putin’s chief spies didn’t just let him bring knives to gunfights — they sold their combat blades and bought a cheap buttercream machine.

Another thing that sets Putin off course is his own overconfidence. Since coming to power in 2000, he has participated in 6 wars – Chechnya, Georgia, North Caucasus, Syria, Central African Republic (CAR) and Ukraine. All but in the end won. Syria and CAR are ongoing, but maintaining the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the administration of Faustin-Archange Touadera represent strategic victories. Putin thinks he can’t lose.

Corruption and overconfidence have prepared a path, but the biggest problem is Putin’s lack of experience in wars of this scale. Syria’s deployment was limited to a remote desert country with minimal ground forces, Georgia lasted only 12 days, and Russia supported Touadera in CAR remotely with Wagner weapons, mentors, and mercenaries. Besides, even if Ukraine played the same game as Syria and Russia could simply copy/paste its lessons, it wouldn’t help because Moscow has clearly forgotten those lessons.

Russia applied its Syrian lessons in Ukraine – but it did so in 2014, when it used Crimea to train professional quick-response forces. Now, however, Moscow is independently operating four combined weapons command posts with only partial management at the defense center in Moscow. Why? Partly because it’s not just propaganda when Putin talks about a “special military operation”. He truly believes that the rest of Ukraine, like Crimea, will have little resistance and the war will only last for a few days.

Military historian Peter Caddick-Adams said in Syria, “They weren’t up against an equal enemy — in fact, they had never been: Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, Syria — unlike in Ukraine. Syria is primarily an air war, with little threat, so Russian pilots see it as a range practice, dropping bombs on pre-selected targets,” he told The Daily Beast.

“Therefore, what Russia did not learn from Syria is how to coordinate an armed battlefield (cannon, armor, anti-tank, air defense, infantry, engineer, etc.) with planes, helicopters, air and naval troops, with a balanced supply and logistics system — that’s what they needed for Ukraine. ”

He added, “Russian communication is very slow and they are using unencrypted cell phones in Ukraine, a bad habit that has happened in Syria, where very few adversaries can understand Russian. or have the technical capacity to intercept.”

Simply put, the Russian Desert War PhD is having a bad career in Ukraine. Indeed, nothing has been as revolutionary for the modern Russian military as the war in Syria, but nothing will have affected it like Ukraine. One could even call this the Vietnam moment of Russia. But one thing is for sure, Russia looked at Ukraine and mistook a tiger for a cat. Now, even if it decides to stop loss and withdraw completely, it may not be so easy. As an old Chinese saying goes, when you ride a tiger, the hard part is getting started.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/putin-learned-nothing-for-ukraine-from-his-war-in-syria?source=articles&via=rss Putin learned nothing for Ukraine from the war in Syria


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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