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The mysterious attacks on Russia’s bases in Syria

Vladimir Putin.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin aboard a plane on his way to the Russian Hmeimim air base. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / TASS via Getty Images

Since New Year’s Eve, Russian bases in Syria have been attacked several times by swarms of armed drones that aren’t visible on radar, the WSJ reports. The greatest attack on Russia’s headquarters in the region comes as Russia is working out a drawback of troops, per The Washington Post.

Why it matters: The attacks suggest Russia’s gains in the region might just be temporary since they show that its presence can still be penetrated despite the fact that Putin has declared victory over enemies, WaPo’s Liz Sly reports.

The incidents also reveal some vulnerabilities in Russia’s preparedness for war in the region.

  • “Unlike U.S. forces, which cleared out insurgent groups block by block in Iraq, Russian troops have usually carpet-bombed areas where suspected enemy groups took refuge,” writes the WSJ’s Thomas Grove. “The tactic lowers vulnerability to insurgent violence but has left the military largely untrained in dealing with unconventional warfare.”
  • And unconventional warfare will continue to afflict the region.

No one has stepped forward to claim the attacks as their own. Different paths this could take:

  • A relatively unknown group called the Free Alawite Movement issued warnings the day after one of the attacks that “coming days will bring more pain for the Russians,” but the group didn’t claim the attacks.
  • Syrian rebel groups have drones, but usually use them for surveillance or dropping bombs, according to the WSJ. Rebel groups usually claim their movements.
  • The drones used have a more sophisticated capability than the drones ISIS usually uses, per WaPo.
  • Russian officials have suggested the U.S. or its allies might be behind the attacks, but the Pentagon says it played no role in the attacks.

The backdrop: After Russia got involved in the war in support of the Syrian regime, rebels in Latakia launched rockets towards Russia’s Hmeimim airbase, and launched mortars vers the Russian embassy in Damascus. In November when Vladimir Putin declared victory over enemies, he promised to make Russia’s presence permanent in Hmeimim and Russia’s naval service base.