Syria: Why the Russian military is more successful than the US coalition

The short explanation is because the Russian mission has achieved its primary political goal, the rescue of the Bashar al-Assad government

Source: Reuters

The author of the article is Thomas Pany. Thomas Pany studied political science with Kurt Sontheimer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, plus modern history and Semitic studies. The original article has been published in Telepolis. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.


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The analysis by the French military historian Michel Goya deviates from the standards of normal perception.

Similar to Germany, in the leading French media it is an exception when there are positive things about the Russian military operation in Syria. There was also a consensus in France to emphasize the brute force of the operation, the victims who caused Russian airstrikes among the civilian population, the morally reprehensible cooperation with the ruler Bashar al-Assad, who is ruthless against a military opposition with which the French government is acting and the leading media sympathized openly and across the board, i.e. not very differentiated.

An article was published in Le Monde which takes a different look at Russian military operations. The heading gives the direction: “Why the Russian military intervention in Syria is a success.”

More efficient than the western military

The short explanation is: Because the Russian mission has achieved its primary political goal, the rescue of the Bashar al-Assad government, which was in great difficulty, with great efficiency and has contributed to making the military victory probable. The war in Syria was still far from over, but it could no longer be lost by Bashar al-Assad.

In the original, Colonel Goya, who made a career in the French army and specialized in modern warfare as an author, speaks of the “Syrian regime”; this should signal to the reader in advance that this is not an “Assadist” who is singing a fan praises the Syrian rule.

In his analysis, Goya does not judge politics, but only the military approach. In an earlier article he published in Figaro last December on the battle for Aleppo, Goya Assad calls a “salaud”, which can be translated as a swine dog or something more serious.

His current summary is unlikely to please Western military personnel. Russia has achieved its goals by using comparatively limited resources, he notes. According to his analysis, Russia had around 4,000 to 5,000 troops and 50 to 70 aircraft as the main force. The estimated daily cost of about 3 million euros would be about a quarter or a fifth of what the United States’ efforts in the region need.

He also makes a comparison with the French anti-IS military operation “Chammal” in Syria and Iraq, which costs an estimated one million euros a day using 1,200 soldiers and 15 planes. Goya compares the average of 6 daily French aircraft missions with an average of 33 daily Russian aircraft missions.

“Given the results, it is undeniable that the Russians have “operational productivity” (in terms of resources and strategic effects) that far exceeds that of the Americans and the French.”

Another difference was that the Russian military operation had been designed and implemented more comprehensively from the start and worked with moments of surprise. Unlike the Americans, who operated strategically with piecemeal – a phase of declarations, gradual reinforcements – Russia had committed heavily and completely from the start.

The strategy of the “careless pedestrian”

The military historian chose the image of a “careless pedestrian” to identify a key strategic element of Russian action. This crosses a street and forces the driver to stop and take care of him. Transferred to the combat zone in Syria, this means that Russia has taken the risk of taking steps that have obliged the others to act accordingly. Above all, the USA is meant.

Although the Syrian combat zone is like a mosaic, that is, with many fronts, it was very important how the two major powers would relate to each other. The Russians are betting that the principle known from previous conflicts still applies that direct confrontation is avoided.

They confirmed this very early on with the installation of the air defense system (S-300 and later S-400). This measure was clearly addressed to the United States, since the Syrian militias had no aircraft. The United States and its allies would not have dared to use effective tactical systems against it, said Goya, who unfortunately does not have the answer here as to how these tactical systems could have actually looked like.

It is important for him to state that Russia thereby secured a dominance that excluded the United States from large airspaces. Like their allies, they were thus placed in a situation similar to that of car drivers with careless pedestrians. To avoid a collision, they had to be considerate, which gave the “pedestrian” freedom of movement and sovereignty.

For this air advantage, the Russian military was able to play out what Goya describes as a successful main strategy: the combined operations, which captured key opponents’ key points with airplanes and helicopters and could thus generate pressure to ensure that certain factions were forced to negotiate.

“Military diplomacy” and protection of the civilian population

It is a peculiarity of the conflict that enemy militias were brought to a point that they consented to a transfer of fighters, Goya emphasizes.

“Incidentally, a relevant modification of the Russian operation was that from February 2016, a center of reconciliation was created with the intention of introducing diplomacy of the war, which allowed the transfers of the fighters to be protected and the action of civil authorities , the UN and NGOs. This center was also clearly an organ of (intelligence, implementation of the) enlightenment.”

In this context, the military historian comes up with a delicate point: preventing civilian casualties. Unlike usual, Goya creates a bill that makes the deployment of Western allies look worse. Goya claims that the Russian military operation has taken increasing and increasing care to protect civilians.

“According to the Airwars website, more than 2,000 civilians were killed in the first five months of Russia’s presence in Syria. As a result, however, civilian casualties have decreased, due to changes in engagement, the experience that Russian pilots have gained, and the use of better equipment, such as the Mi-28-N and attack helicopters Ka-52 had replaced the Su-25 aircraft during the support missions. Civilian losses remained at an elevated level, but the trend was clearly downward. According to Airwars, they total between 4,000 and 5,400 civilians killed. They can be compared with the numbers between 5,300 and 8,200 dead civilians who are assigned to the American coalition” Michel Goya said

Of course, it remains unclear how reliable these figures are, and such comparisons and counter-calculations are also based on a cold perspective on the monstrousness of the war that Goya’s namesake denounced centuries ago in its horror. Nonetheless, the view of military historian Michel Goya adapts quite a bit what was presented in the reporting of the leading media with distortion of the enemy. One can look forward to reactions.

Neither does Goya mention the role of ground forces such as Hezbollah and the Syrian army, which contributed significantly to the success of the Russian intervention. His original analysis, which can be read on his blog “La voie de l’Epée”, is far more detailed and specific with regard to the use of satellites, the testing of weapon systems, new and old technology and special tactics of combined operations.

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