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A look from the USA: where Russia can send troops

The United States analyzed the reasons that prompted Russia to enter into a military conflict in Syria in 2015. In addition to the problem in the SAR, there are three more tension points where Russian interests are involved - Libya, Afghanistan and Yemen. Whether Russia will directly intervene in these wars, experts at the American non-profit organization RAND decided.

A look from the USA: where Russia can send troops

Russia's military intervention in 2015 in the civil war in Syria took many by surprise and raised the question of the possibility of such actions by Moscow in other conflicts outside of post-Soviet Eurasia. The American non-profit organization RAND evaluated where and under what conditions Moscow could intervene again by analyzing the factors that determine Russia's decision to intervene.
In addition to the operation in Syria, which began in 2015 in Syria, the authors of the RAND report are considering three more areas of Moscow’s lesser intervention in armed conflicts outside the borders of Russia: in Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

RAND analysis shows that Moscow’s decision on a military operation in Syria in 2015 was the result of an extraordinary fusion of political drivers and military conditions.

This set of circumstances, according to RAND, is unlikely to be reproduced elsewhere. Indeed, the driving forces for armed intervention on a scale comparable to Moscow’s actions in Syria in 2015 are absent in any of the other three countries.

Three political circumstances become the main factors for making such a decision: the feeling that an unfavourable military outcome - the collapse of the regime of President Bashar Assad - is inevitable, and that it can be prevented by military intervention; and the belief that this result will have serious security implications; and the view that alternative means (such as diplomacy) would prove useless in this case.

Several favourable military factors specific to Syria were prerequisites for a military operation in Syria: air access to the theatre of war, permission to use ports and air bases and the presence of allies on the ground.

Russia is unlikely to intervene on a scale comparable to the 2015 actions in Syria in any of the three other countries considered in the report - Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan, according to the authors of the RAND report. Drivers for this promotion are currently not available.

Libya: compromise with everyone

Russia began to play a more active role in the civil war in Libya in 2015, when its participation, according to RAND, reached the level of medium-scale intervention.

Moscow began working with two of the most influential field groups: the internationally recognized Libyan National Unity Government (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and the Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar and supported by the Libyan House of Representatives (HOR), the city of Tobruk in the east of the country.

Initially, many observers came to the conclusion that the Kremlin is betting on Field Marshal Haftar, who controlled more of Libyan territory than his rivals. Khalifa Haftar visited Moscow twice since 2016, and also boarded the only Russian aircraft carrier when it was off the coast of Libya.
Media reports indicate that Russia provided the Haftar armed forces with weapons and printed currency for his administration.

The HOR president said his government had requested Russian military assistance in training personnel and repairing weapons and military equipment. One Russian private military contractor claims to have an agreement to ensure security in the territory controlled by Haftar.

In October 2018, the media reported that Russia had deployed special forces in Libya to support Haftar. Russian troops were allegedly stationed in small numbers on the Egyptian side of the border between Egypt and Libya to assist Haftar’s troops. Russian special operations forces and unmanned aerial vehicles were spotted in Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles from the border, according to a RAND report.

In November 2017, the Russian government published a draft text of a bilateral Russian-Egyptian agreement on the mutual use of airspace and air bases, which, as many assumed, was associated with the joint efforts of the parties to stabilize the situation in Libya. However, after the publication of the draft, there are no further reports on the status of this agreement.

But Russia did not put all its chips on Haftar. According to Russian officials quoted by RAND, “in Libya, we don’t want to join any side of the conflict.”

Indeed, al-Serraj and other GNA members regularly travelled to Russia and met with senior Russian officials. GNA Foreign Minister visited Russia twice in May 2018.

State-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft has also signed contracts with the state-owned oil company, managed by GNA.

In addition to the GNA and Haftar, Russia also interacted with other notable groups in Libya, in particular, as mentioned above, with a group controlling the city of Misurata.

In addition to Egypt, Moscow is working with the United Nations, the United Arab Emirates, France and Italy to promote a political settlement in Libya. Russia's growing influence on this conflict has forced the EU, led by Italy, to turn to Moscow. As a result, Paris had no choice but to invite Moscow to its high-level meetings related to Libya. Unlike Syria, Russia seems to be seeking a compromise outcome of the conflict, the settlement of which is agreed under the auspices of the UN.

In 2017, together with the UAE, Moscow called on Haftar and Al Serraj for their first negotiations in the 16 months of confrontation.

In other words, Russia has established itself as a mediator in any future Libyan political settlement. The Russian intervention in Libya, according to RAND, has brought countless geopolitical benefits to Moscow. The Kremlin, it seems, predicted all the possible benefits when they began to intervene in Libyan affairs.

As of 2018, Moscow was already at the centre of all possible efforts to stabilize the situation in the country. Russia has strengthened its position in relations with such regional powers as Egypt and the UAE, as well as with the EU and NATO member states - France and Italy. In fact, one of the respondents said that Russia’s policy towards Libya is basically “aimed at restoring relations with France and Italy.”

Meanwhile, Russia's participation in Libyan affairs has so far been relatively limited. Interacting with numerous Libyan groups, Moscow minimized the risks to its interests, which entails the accession only to Field Marshal Haftar.

In addition to helping Haftar, the Russian military did not openly intervene in the conflict. At the same time, some Russian politicians stated that it was “difficult for them to imagine the Syrian operation of the Aerospace Forces in Libya,” the RAND report says.

Yemen: equidistant from everyone

The outbreak of civil war in Yemen in the same year 2015 pushed Hussite-backed Iranian rebels to oppose the Saudi Arabian government of President Yemen Abd-Rabba Mansour Hadi and supporters of late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The emerging power vacuum allowed the terrorist organizations Al-Qaida (the organization is banned in Russia) and the Islamic State (both banned in Russia) to gain a foothold in this region.

As the coalition led by Saudi Arabia continued to launch air strikes against terrorists in 2018, the Hussites retained control of the capital of Yemen, Sana'a. According to RAND, Russia tried to avoid the unconditional support of either side. Moscow received a number of delegations representing almost all the factions present in Yemen.

In April 2015, Russia did not veto UNSC resolution 2216, which introduced a ban on the export of weapons to Hussites. After Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi was forced to flee Yemen, Moscow recalled its ambassador from the capital of this state.

However, in 2017, Russia officially recognized the Hadi government ambassador and, according to media reports, printed the currency on his behalf, the RAND report says.

At the same time, the Hussite delegations visited Moscow, offering the Kremlin various economic incentives to encourage Russia to recognize them as a legitimate government. However, the Kremlin limited itself at this stage to sending humanitarian aid to Sana'a.

As noted in the RAND report, experts surveyed by the corporation believe that Russian officials, especially in the Foreign Ministry, do not trust the Hussites.

Russia merely expressed “concern” about the airstrikes of the Saudi-led coalition, while at the same time, she condemned the Hussite rocket attacks on Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, Russia used its veto power in the UN Security Council to block a resolution accusing Iran of arming the Hussites, and at the same time voted to maintain the embargo on their arms supplies.

Therefore, RAND characterizes Russia's participation in Yemen as “small-scale,” and its position with respect to local players as equidistant, without any significant direct support being provided to any side other than dialogue with everyone.


From 2015-2016, Russia has played an increasingly active role in the civil war in Afghanistan, in particular, by expanding ties with the Taliban (the organization is banned in Russia).

The emergence of ISIS with its vision of a global caliphate made the Taliban with their emphasis on gaining power in Afghanistan a more attractive partner for Russia.

Russia considers the presence of IS in Afghanistan as a direct threat to its own national security.

As Russia's special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said : “The IS has significantly increased its forces in Afghanistan. According to our estimates, there are already 10 thousand fighters in this group (as of December 2017), and this number continues to grow, partly thanks to militants who have gained experience in military operations in Syria and Iraq. I would like to draw your attention to the concentration of IS fighters in northern Afghanistan. The IG clearly stated the goal of spreading its influence outside Afghanistan. This poses a serious security threat, primarily for the countries of Central Asia and the southern regions of Russia. ”

This threat made Moscow begin to interact with the Taliban movement, which was actively fighting IS in Afghanistan.

In addition, Moscow wanted to strengthen its interaction with a movement that controls up to 70% of the country's territory and will undoubtedly play an important role in any future political settlement in Afghanistan.

Media reports citing Taliban sources said that representatives of the movement several times "met with Russian officials in Russia and other countries."

RAND also writes about indirect signs of the supply of Russian-made military equipment, such as night-vision goggles, which were discovered by Taliban militants. However, at the moment there is no public evidence to confirm that it was Moscow that provided this equipment to the Taliban.

“We classify Russia's intervention in Afghanistan as medium-term,” RAND experts say. The Kremlin’s main efforts were limited to diplomacy.

But he assisted the Afghan government security forces and may have provided some military assistance to the Taliban.

In addition to countering the threat of ISIS and maintaining influence on the Taliban, Moscow may receive other geopolitical benefits from its participation in Afghan affairs. Until now, Russian intervention has put the Kremlin at the centre of international mediation efforts.

Spearhead diplomacy

Large-scale Russian military intervention in Libya, Yemen, or Afghanistan is unlikely under current conditions, according to RAND. For this to happen, there must be an inevitable adverse military outcome that would have serious consequences for Russia's security and that could be prevented by large-scale military operations (for example, the Islamic State on the verge of seizing control of the north-western provinces of Afghanistan).

In addition, Moscow would probably try other ways to solve this problem, including diplomacy and broader medium-sized intervention, before resorting to this step, the RAND report says.

It would be important for Russia to obtain some form of international legitimation for large-scale military intervention, which seems unlikely in the case of the three countries listed above.

It would seem that more active participation of Russia in the affairs of Libya or Afghanistan would be more likely if Moscow fully supported one of the parties. At the time of writing the RAND report, such a development seemed unlikely.

The large-scale military intervention of Russia in the conflict in Syria, starting in 2015, was the result of emergency circumstances. These circumstances can hardly materialize in the context of other civil conflicts under consideration.

“On the one hand, the RAND report is a material of a pronounced predictive nature - such as“ what happens if ”. At the same time, a number of assessments of the military-political situation in the regions, of course, deserve attention, and can be used in practice by some of our departments, ”said Lieutenant General Valery Zaparenko, former First Deputy Chief Operations Directorate of the General Staff, to Gazeta.Ru 

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