October 01, 2015

CNAS Press Note: Russian Airstrikes in Syria

Washington, October 1 – On news that Russian forces have used airstrikes against targets in Syria, Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Middle East Security Program Director Ilan Goldenberg and Middle East Security Program Research Associate Nicholas Heras have written a new Press Note, “Russian Airstrikes in Syria.”

The full press note is below:

Russia conducted its first day of airstrikes in Syria yesterday and asserted that it is targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Instead of hitting ISIS, Russian warplanes are striking at non-ISIS, Syrian-armed opposition groups that are the most direct threat to Bashar al-Assad’s statelet in western Syria. By striking at the Assad regime’s nearest enemies, the Russians are ultimately seeking to strengthen the position of the regime, and in so doing, expand Russia’s leverage in any post-conflict political transition in the country. 

Ultimately, the Russian intervention is likely to prolong the war and increase the misery in Syria. Worryingly, the Russian military provided the United States with little warning and few details of its impending air operations. Without the proper deconfliction of air space, there is an increased danger of an inadvertent incident between American and Russian aircraft. At a minimum, the Unites States should make it clear to the Russians that these actions are unacceptable, and as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stated, will only "pour gas on the fire."

In the long term, the indefinite continuation of Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria is not conducive to ending the conflict. Only a negotiated political solution that results in Assad's departure, and involves all of the key players in Syria, can end the civil war.  However, to get to that outcome, the United States and its partners will need to reset the situation on the ground, and create the conditions necessary for an agreement. This will require building leverage in the Syrian armed opposition, while raising the costs for both Russia and Iran.

Goldenberg and Heras are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at nurwitz@cnas.org or 202-457-9409.


  • Ilan Goldenberg

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Ilan Goldenberg is the former Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He is a foreign policy and defense expe...

  • Nicholas Heras

    Former Fellow, Middle East Security Program

    Nicholas A. Heras is a former Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), working in the Middle East Security Program. His work focused on the analysis of complex...