US sees bearable costs, key goals met for Russia in Syria so far
Russia has suffered minimal casualties and, despite domestic fiscal woes, is handily covering the operation’s cost, which is estimated at $1-2 billion, notes Jonathan Landay
Three months into his military intervention in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved his central goal of stabilising the government and, with the costs relatively low, could sustain military operations at this level for years, US officials and military analysts say.
That assessment comes despite public assertions by President Barack Obama and top aides that Putin has embarked on an ill-conceived mission in
support of Syrian President Bashar al Assad that it will struggle to afford and that will likely fail.
“I think it’s indisputable that the Syrian regime, with Russian military support, is probably in a safer position than it was,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity.
Five other US officials interviewed concurred with the view that the Russian mission has been mostly successful so far and is facing relatively low costs.
The US officials stressed that Putin could face serious problems the longer his involvement in the more than four-year-old civil war drags on.
Yet since its campaign began on September 30, Russia has suffered minimal casualties and, despite domestic fiscal woes, is handily covering the operation’s cost, which analysts estimate at $1-2 billion a year. The war is being funded from Russia’s regular annual defence budget of about $54 billion, a US intelligence official said.
The expense, analysts and officials said, is being kept in check by plummeting oil prices that, while hurting Russia’s overall economy, has helped its defence budget stretch further by reducing the costs of fueling aircraft and ships.
It has also been able to tap a stockpile of conventional bombs dating to the
Putin has said his intervention is aimed at stabilising the Syrian government and helping it fight the IS group, though Western officials and Syrian opposition groups say its air strikes mostly have targeted moderate rebels.
Russia’s Syrian and other partners have made few major territorial gains.
Yet Putin’s intervention has halted the opposition’s momentum, allowing Syrian forces to take the offensive.
Prior to Russia’s military action, US and Western officials said, Syrian government looked increasingly threatened.
Rather than pushing back the opposition, Russia may be settling for defending Assad’s grip on key population centres, said the US intelligence official.
Russia is taking advantage of the operation to test new weapons in battlefield conditions and integrate them into its tactics, the intelligence official said. It is refining its use of unarmed surveillance drones, the official added.
“The Russians didn’t go blindly into this,” said the US intelligence official, adding that they “are getting some benefit out of the cost.”
Russia’s intervention also appears to have strengthened its hand at the negotiating table.
In recent weeks, Washington has engaged more closely with Russia in seeking a settlement to the war
and backed off a demand for the immediate departure of Assad as part of any political transition.
Obama has suggested as recently as this month that Moscow is being sucked into a foreign venture that will drain its resources and bog down its military.
On December 1, he raised the prospect of Russia becoming “bogged down in an inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict.”