Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned

Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned


This edited volume, Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned, published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, sets out to examine the Russian Federation’s way of war in Syria. It consists of seven chapters, authored by nine subject-matter experts from the United States, Europe, and Russia. The authors closely examine the various roles that Russia and its military forces have played in the Syrian civil war and fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Read more about the chapters here.


This thorough and thoughtful book reveals how and why the Kremlin has abetted the Bashar al Assad regime’s serial mass homicide under the guise of counter-terrorism.  Russia’s War in Syria should be read, discussed, and applied to counter Vladimir Putin’s evolving style of warfare and subversion.

—H.R. McMaster, author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.

This collection of insightful analyses explains why Russia’s intervention in Syria did not lead to the “quagmire” that many commentators predicted in 2015. It provides a deeply-informed appraisal of Russian objectives in entering the conflict, including its goals for having broader regional influence through a minimalist and flexible presence, and Russian planners’ efforts to turn the Syrian intervention into a template for future limited military actions in pursuit of Russian interests. This is an invaluable book for anyone trying to understand Russia’s current role in Syria and the Middle East.

—Fiona Hill, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security
Council from 2017 to 2019.


Russia’s War in Syria is an understated gem of a book: short, but comprehensive. Everything you need to know about Russian military strategy from the big picture to the small picture is here in detail. There is also a concise capsule history of the Syrian civil war that is incredibly useful for scholars and journalists. This book is not to be skimmed, but to be read closely.

                                                                        —Robert D. Kaplan, Robert Strausz-Hupé Chair in Geopolitics, Foreign Policy Research Institute, and author of The Revenge of Geography and The Return of Marco Polo’s World.

In Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned, the Foreign Policy Research Institute uncloaks Russia’s military strategy and tactics in Syria, the latest flashpoint in U.S.-Russia conflict.  From targeting western backed opposition with indiscriminate attacks to the Kremlin’s imposition of de-escalation zones and intermingling of Spetsnaz with private military companies, the exceptional FPRI subject-matter experts deliver unmatched analysis, which will be of supreme value to Russia and Middle East watchers alike.

—Daniel Hoffman, former Director of the CIA’s Middle East and North Africa Division.

In October 2015, President Barack Obama predicted that the Russian intervention in Syria “won’t work” and that Moscow would get “stuck in a quagmire.” Five years later, while Russia remains in Syria, its mission has reoriented the geopolitics of the entire Middle East without exacting a heavy toll. This important volume takes as its starting point the existence of a distinct “Russian way of war” which has avoided some of the problems and failures that have accompanied American military involvement in the region—and assess both what the U.S. national security establishment can learn from the Russian experience, but also what steps and methods would be unacceptable for the U.S. to undertake. As the U.S. – Russia relationship increasingly becomes defined by great power competition, understanding how Moscow fights is essential for policymakers and analysts alike.

—Nikolas Gvosdev, Editor of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs



Table of Contents

1 Setting the Stage for the Intervention

Robert Hamilton, Chris Miller, Aaron Stein

2  The Russian Way of War in Syria: Threat Perception and Approaches to Counterterrorism

Anna Borshchevskaya

3  Syria and the Russian Armed Forces: An Evaluation of Moscow’s Military Strategy and Operational Performance

Michael Kofman

4 The Russian Ground-Based Contingent in Syria

Lester Grau and Charles Bartles

5  Russian Aerial Operations in the Syrian War

Anton Lavrov

6  Russian Naval Forces in the Syrian War

Igor Delanoë

7  Implications for the West

Robert Hamilton