Russia sees its activities in Syria "as one area that really speaks to Russian global power and influence," Nicholas Lokker, an expert on Russian foreign policy at the Center for a New American Security, told Insider, adding that Moscow is able to "really shape international affairs according to its own interests" there.
Lokker, a research associate with the transatlantic security program at CNAS, said it's notable that the recent string of incidents in Syria comes on the heels of the Wagner Group's late-June rebellion against Russia's military leadership.
Recognizing the reputational hit to his military, Putin has been "looking for opportunities to compensate, including by resorting to these types of risky maneuvers, such as harassing US drones," Lokker said. "These maneuvers, they are to some extent intended to demonstrate Russian military strength," which could appease the country's domestic audience.
Though there are still dangers in engaging in this type of behavior, harassing and even damaging drones gives Russia a way to flex its muscles without necessarily risking a major escalation.
In general, Syria is a place where Russia can seriously demonstrate its military might, and the drone incidents are a part of that. In contrast with the situation in Ukraine, Russian forces have actually been able to notch achievements in Syria while supporting the ruthless Assad regime and have had a tangible impact on the trajectory of the 12-year-long conflict there, Lokker said. "Russia really wants to be perceived as a great power, and it sees its military presence in Syria as an important component of this."
Russia may also be conducting its harassment attacks to support Iran — a country with whom Moscow has enjoyed growing military ties — in its overall goal of trying to oust US forces from the Middle East, Lokker said.
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