Firstly, the Russians knew what their primary objectives in Syria were; to support the government of Bashar Assad in Damascus and wipe out anti-government ‘rebels’, and also exterminate any Islamic State infrastructure and operatives-with an especial emphasis on those originating from the former Soviet Union.
The Russian Federation chose the exact point to stage their ‘intervention’-September 30th, 2015. By this point, it became clear who the factions in Syria were and where they were receiving funding. The Syrian ‘opposition’, though being a genuinely anti-governmental faction at the start of the war in 2011 was by 2015 primarily a cabal of Islamists, some in lieu with Al Qaeda and ISIS. Despite this ‘hijacking’, Western and Israeli intelligence continued to fund, train and equip these factions.
Islamic State, as the Russians uncovered was being funded by way of illicit oil smuggling-with Turkey being a key organiser and client-from the oilfields East of Deir-Ez-Zor (strangely enough the same ones captured recently by the US). Alongside this, the US and other ‘allies’ such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE and Pakistan were also pouring money into the Caliphate. Once the
Russia began airstrikes on two fronts after 2015-targeting Islamic State oil smuggling convoys heading towards the Syrian-Turkish border, which severely hampered IS’ financial income. As the Turkish border suddenly became surveyed, oil couldn’t easily be transported for sale and their exploits began to grind to a halt. The Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber that was shot down by the Turks was one such aircraft flying along the border scanning for IS elements. Airstrikes also began against Syrian opposition fighters in Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Idlib (the primary resistance centres).
These pushbacks allowed Damascus to breathe a little and enjoy some respite from the continuous barrage of resistance-Russia brought in serious heavy bomber contingents to tackle Islamic State; Tu-160M and Tu-22M3 strategic bombers carpet-bombed barracks, fortresses, convoys, weapons depots and oil and gas production facilities. Against the Syrian opposition, the use of precision strikes was required due to the dense presence of civilians. Su-30, Su-33 and Su-34, but also Mi-24 and Ka-27 attack helicopters were used to hit embedded fighters and suppress enemy fire for Syrian ground units to move in. Western media won’t admit it, but Russia invested far more military assets and importance towards the Syrian civil war and this is what turned the tide-against both Syrian opposition and ISIS.
Once the Russians provided ‘death from above’, they also provided more direct ground support. After 4-years of civil war, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) was severely depleted in terms of manpower, armour and morale. Videos from 2014 show Syrian T-55 tanks already in a deplorable state fighting against all manner of ATGMs and faring badly. The Russians provided storage T-55s and T-64s, which whilst antiquated by today’s standards are invaluable against and the enemy that has none. Russian Spec Ops provided training and leadership to exhausted Syrian soldiers, but also provided logistical and intelligence info. The Russians directed the SAA to fight whilst providing air support and occasionally artillery support which proved highly effective. (some excerpts from Quora)
The West poured money and materiel into the opposition forces such as the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) as well as Al-Nusra Front (now known to be Islamist factions akin to ISIS themselves). Whilst they provided intelligence, they steered clear of investing a direct ground presence; ironically the US preferred to provide a ground presence with the Kurdish factions such as the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) to the North East where Syria’s natural resources are. Think about that for a moment.
The Russians pushed the opposition all the way back towards the North West and seized Aleppo, and pushed Islamic State out of the territory to the West of Deir-Ez-Zor. At this point, once the SAA had built enormous momentum the US coalition initiated its own ‘killer blow’ and struck the Islamic State Syrian ‘capital’ of Raqqa after previously liberating their Iraqi capital of Mosul. As it stands today, only Idlib province remains an opposition hub, and Damascus has consolidated its power over roughly 80% of Syria. The Kurds to the North East have been brought into line through threats from Turkey, who itself currently occupies territory. Islamic State is defeated-despite the American claims to the contrary and the SAA is the strongest faction left in Syria.
By means of combined forces, Russia managed to support and reinvigorates the Syrian Army in its twofold fight against opposition factions and ISIS; the Russians brought to Syria modern warfare concepts and formed reliable working partnerships with Turkey, Iran and Israel to achieve what they came for. The Syrian opposition was rightly shown to be Islamist at its core, and the Kurds to be nothing more than opportunists who rose up against Assad for an illegal independent state. Islamic State itself was the lovechild of America’s illegal war in Iraq, and Syria was destined to become another Libya at the behest and design of Western forces as a means to eventual tackle Iran, but it was sorely underestimated the role Russia’s presence could provide. Russia had finally arrived on the world stage and was not going anywhere soon.