Russia mobilized and transported forces and equipment to Syria under the guise of military exercises. The link between Russia’s arrival at the naval base at Tartus and its military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean are clear, and the proximity in time of Russia’s deployment into Syria and its Center 2015 exercise indicates that these military exercises served as preludes or covers for deployments.
The positioning of Russian aircraft in Syria gives the Kremlin an ability to shape and control U.S. and Western operations in both Syria and Iraq out of all proportion to the size of the Russian force. It can compel the U.S. to accept a de facto combined coalition with Russia, Syria, Iran, and Lebanese Hezbollah, possibly in support of indiscriminate operations against any and all regime opponents, not just ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Russia and the separatists continued their operational pause in eastern Ukraine as Russia turned its attention toward its creation of a forward operating base in Syria ahead of President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the UN General Assembly on September 28.
Russia has been using an advanced form of hybrid warfare in Ukraine since early 2014 that relies heavily on an element of information warfare that the Russians call “reflexive control.” Moscow has used this technique skillfully to persuade the U.S. and its European allies to remain largely passive in the face of Russia’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle Ukraine. The West must become alert to the use of reflexive control techniques and find ways to counter them if it is to succeed in an era of hybrid war.
Russian-backed separatists have dialed back offensive operations in connection with a September 1 ceasefire agreement.
Russian-backed separatists initially abided by a short-term ceasefire beginning September 1, which was designed to reduce the number of civilian casualties during the first week of the Ukrainian school year.
Far-right groups launched a violent riot on August 31 outside Ukraine’s parliament during its review of controversial constitutional amendments that would acknowledge the special status of separatist-held southeastern Ukraine. The riots demonstrate the growing challenge to stability that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko faces from the far-right, a threat that could present new vulnerabilities that the Kremlin may exploit.
Russian-backed separatists continued to engage Ukrainian forces with indirect fire along the front line in Donbas, as talks resumed on the implementation of the February “Minsk II” ceasefire agreement. Separatist indirect fire killed two Ukrainian troops less than 10 kilometers outside of Mariupol, one week after a separatist artillery barrage killed three civilians in a suburb of the strategic port city.
Russian-backed separatists launched a rare artillery barrage on the northeastern outskirts of the strategic government-held port city of Mariupol on August 16.
On August 10, Russian-backed separatist forces launched their largest combined arms assault against Ukrainian forces in the past two months.