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Russian Movements in Syria

2024-02-28 10:54

Issam Khoury

#GeopoliticalTensions , #Russia , #StrategicControl , #MilitaryRecruitment , #RegionalSecurity,

Russian Movements in Syria

"Russian control in Syria: strategic asset dominance, recruitment for global conflicts, and geopolitical tensions with Israel, US, and NATO."


The title "Out of Service" became synonymous with Damascus International Airport in 2023 due to repeated targeting of its runways by Israeli aircraft. This title also applies to Aleppo International Airport, prompting Syrians to feel reassured by traveling from "Martyr Bassel Al-Assad" Airport in Khmeimim[1], Latakia Governorate. This airport, untouched by Israeli attacks, serves as a Russian military base in the Middle East.



Additionally, Tartus Port, managed by a Russian company called "Stroytransgaz[2]" since April 2019, has not faced any Israeli aerial targeting. In contrast, Latakia Port has been targeted multiple times by Israel, leading Syrian merchants to feel more secure about their goods at Tartus Port. Despite Tartus Port having a smaller water basin and lower capacity for cargo compared to Latakia Port, it stands out as a safe haven for Syrian traders.



It is noteworthy that "Stroytransgaz" has had a contract since 2018 to invest in and extract phosphates from mines in the Palmyra region for fifty years. In collaboration with the Syrian Gas Company, the company executed an €80 million project to enhance Syria's domestic gas and electricity supply[3]. This company has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration and holds significant investments in the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.



Israeli strikes on Syrian airports and ports aim to deter the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from sending weapons and radical Shia jihadist fighters to Syrian and Lebanese territories. Therefore, when an Iranian company secured a contract to manage Latakia Port in 2021, it posed a threat to the stability of the coastal strip, considered a Russian sphere of influence in Syria. This led to Israeli airstrikes on Latakia Port twice in December 2021[4], prompting the Russians to urge the Syrian regime to cancel the contract with the Iranians. Latakia Port is now managed by "Container Station," owned by the French-Syrian businessman Jack Saade, under Russian supervision and protection.



From here, the Russians have become the guardians of the commercial ports of Latakia and Tartus. Additionally, they have a Khmeimim Air Base, housing several Russian fighters such as the Su-30 and Su-35, strategic bombers like the Tu-22M3, attack helicopters, and the S-400 missile system. In Tartus port, multiple military pieces are protected by the S-300 missile system.



In 2022, Russia dismantled the S-300 missile system previously used by the Syrian army in the Masyaf area of Hama province. It was relocated to the military port of Tartus to be shipped back to Russia. The Syrian army struggled to effectively operate the system, and the Russians were not willing to send experts to assist in the area under the Fourth Division of Maher al-Assad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Moreover, the Syrian regime did not cover the financial costs for the missile system, as the Russians needed to bolster their air defenses along the vast Russian-Ukrainian border during their intense conflict with the Western-backed Ukrainian society.



Furthermore, the Russians dismantled another S-300 system that had been supplied to the Syrian army. This system reached the Russian military base in Tartus, without confirming its transfer back to Russia. This raises the possibility of it being sold to a third party or stored for potential use in a region suitable for the Russians or their allies like Libya.



Obtaining precise information from Russian bases in Syria is challenging, as the Russians have prohibited any Syrians from entering their naval base in Tartus due to suspicions of corruption within the Syrian army and security forces, making them susceptible to recruitment by international or regional intelligence agencies. As for Bassel al-Assad International Airport, it is divided into civilian and military sections, with the latter under Russian control. Due to limited civilian flights, only one runway is utilized. Upon arrival, passengers are required to walk to the inspection room, where their relatives cannot meet them in the airport lobby. Vehicles are also not allowed near the airport entrance, forcing passengers to carry their luggage over a distance exceeding 200 meters to reach the parking area.



Overall, these security measures were implemented with the involvement of Syrian air intelligence elements. Surveillance cameras linked to the Russian military police were installed around the airport and the Russian naval base, indicating the seriousness of the Russians in safeguarding their information.



Recently, videos have surfaced showing Syrians who have obtained Russian citizenship. They were brought by Russian contractors to the Russian naval base in Tartus, where they underwent blood tests to ensure they were free from chronic diseases. After two days, they were transferred to Russia via the Khmeimim Airport. According to sources close to their families, the Russian contractors requested the following documents from them: 


  • A clean criminal record, 
  • Completion of mandatory service card, 
  • An unemployment card,
  • Approval from Syrian security to travel.



Most Syrian recruits traveling to Russia undergo intensive military training at a military base in Siberia. They are then organized into Russian security companies that collaborate with the Russian army. Some are sent to fronts in Ukraine, as evidenced by several photos shared on social media. However, the majority are dispatched to Libya. These security companies leverage the Arabic language skills of Syrians to facilitate their operations in Arab countries. Russians are known to employ soldiers from former Islamic republics within Russia in countries like Syria and Libya to bridge the significant cultural gap between Russia and Arab Muslim societies.





President Putin has signed a decree allowing foreign fighters in the Russian army to obtain Russian citizenship for themselves, their spouses, and children[5]. Consequently, the Russian military bases in Syria, amid the absence of real battles, function administratively to strengthen the Russian armed forces. To mitigate criticism and media scrutiny, Russian civilian contractors manage these contracts with Syrians and other nationalities to avoid portraying the Russian army in Syria as a team neglecting their duties under the guise of a "Reconciliation Center."



Certainly, the United States and NATO can disrupt Russian activities and recruitment of Arabs in Syria by escalating military and security tensions around Russian military bases in Syria. Syrian Islamic factions in Idlib, despite being pro-Turkey, harbor deep animosity towards Russia, the main supporter of the Syrian regime relentlessly bombing them. 


So, Washington can agitate the Russians through secure intermediaries by supplying arms that challenge Russian interests, diverting their focus from enhancing offensive capabilities against Ukraine. However, Washington is not heavily invested in this issue as it recognizes that Syrian or Arab fighters lack the combat efficiency required to support Russian forces. Even if some are qualified, they need several months to integrate into Russian military units. Since Russian naturalization requires a minimum of one year of service in the Russian army, this year may become a graveyard for unqualified soldiers, especially those placed in frontline attacking positions, making them human fodder that Russia drains to reduce casualties in its army.




[1] Khmeimim Air Base, also known as Hmeimim Air Base, is a Syrian airbase currently under Russian operation. It is situated southeast of Latakia city in Hmeimim, Latakia Governorate, Syria. The airbase shares airfield facilities with Bassel Al-Assad International Airport.


[2] Stroytransgaz is a Russian construction engineering company specializing in the oil and gas industry. Established in 1990 as a Gazprom subsidiary, it is currently under the control of Gennady Timchenko through his Volga Group SICAV SIF SA fund.


[3] "Stroytransgaz" will add half a million cubic meters of natural gas to the Syrian network/ sputnik/ Nov 2022

"ستروي ترانس غاز" تضيف نصف مليون متر مكعب من الغاز الطبيعي إلى الشبكة السورية - 01.11.2022, سبوتنيك عربي (sputnikarabic.ae)


[4] For the second time this month, Israeli airstrikes target the port of Latakia, causing significant damage /Al Jazeera Net,/December 28, 2021.

"ستروي ترانس غاز" تضيف نصف مليون متر مكعب من الغاز الطبيعي إلى الشبكة السورية - 01.11.2022, سبوتنيك عربي (sputnikarabic.ae)


[5] Putin offers citizenship to foreigners who fight for Russia/ January 4, 2024/ Reuters

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