Russia Security Update: November 11-18, 2015

Russia is attempting to align itself with France in the wake of ISIS’s terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13. Russia took steps to reassert its freedom of action in Syria as France expanded its anti-ISIS air campaign in response to the Paris attacks. On November 17, Russia launched air strikes from long-range strategic bombers for the first time since its intervention in the Syrian Civil War and announced plans to deploy 12 additional fixed-wing attack aircraft. Russia also reportedly launched sea-based cruise missile strikes from both the Mediterranean and the Caspian Sea, although Moscow has not officially confirmed these attacks. Russia framed this escalation as a direct response to ISIS’s likely responsibility for the Russian airliner downed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31. Russia’s use of long-range strategic bombers and missiles is, however, likely intended as a show of force to the U.S. and its NATO allies. Russia likely accelerated its announcement about the downed airliner in order to garner sympathy and greater partnership with France. Russia may view France’s accelerating air campaign in Syria as an opportunity both to draw a major U.S. ally into its proposed alternative counterterrorism coalition and to degrade NATO. Meanwhile, Russian-backed separatists escalated again in Ukraine, launching attacks with Grad rocket launchers for the first time since a September 1 ceasefire. Russian mobilization through proxies as well as with naval and air assets ranges beyond Syria in an increasingly aggressive pattern.