#PutinAtWar: End of Year Operations in Syria

An update on latest videos of Russian military involvement in Syria

(Source: YouTube / News Agency STEP)

As Russian President Vladimir Putin announced victory against the ISIS in Syria on December 11. Consequently, the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) stopped releasing daily statements Russian Military operations in Syria. However, the bombings did not stop. Instead the target locations changed to focus more on rebel territory.

@DFRLab previously reported on Russian bombing territory held by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and alleged usage of incendiary munitions. Now, recently released civilian videos show December was particularly busy for the Russian Air Force.

December 28 Bombing

On December 28 (14:05 UTC), the Syrian news agency STEP News released a video, which allegedly showed a Russian jetfighter bombing the town of Kafr Zita.

The video shows a Sukhoi Su-24 (NATO reporting name: Fencer) fighter, which @DFRLab previsouly reported on, dropping missiles in an urban area. Satellite imagery confirms the presence of these aircraft at Russia’s Kheimim airbase. Russian media outlet Kommersant even reported the loss of four Su-24 aircrafts due to mortar fire on Januarys 3, 2018. Kommersant’s reports were contested by Sputnik News a day later. The Syrian regime also has a small number of Su-24 aircraft, which are supplied by their Russian allies.

Images from the video (left) compared with Sukhoi Su-24 (NATO reporting name: Fencer) pictures (right) and satellite imagery from Khmeimim airbase (center). Left: (Source: YouTube / News Agency STEP); Center: (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: Russia-Insider); Bottom Right: (Source: News.Xinhuanet).

The video claimed the attacks targeted the town of Kafr Zita, which is the same location @DFRLab also reported on Russia’s alleged use of incendiary munitions in December. The location of the latest bombing appeared to be in the urban parts of southern Kafr Zita town. This town is on the frontline of clashes between Syrian government forces and Syrian rebel forces. According to some sources, this area is currently controlled by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham rebels. No official statements were released on official Russian MoD website about any aerial operations in Syria over this time period.

Potential location of the December 28 bombing in Kafr Zita. Left: (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: YouTube / News Agency STEP).
Bombs falling in Kafr Zita. (Source: GoogleMaps); Right: (Source: YouTube / News Agency STEP).

Here is the location pinpointed on the map.

Russian Aircraft over Syria

On December 31 (07:51 UTC), Syrian news agency Qasioun News released a video allegedly depicting Russian aircraft over the city of Idlib.

The video lack a verifiable geolocation, but present clear silhouettes of aircraft used only by Russian forces.

The first aircraft was the Sukhoi Su-30SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker-C). The Syrian Air Force does not possess this jet, and a number of them were located at Khmeimim airbase using satellite imagery.

Images from the video (left) compared with Sukhoi Su-30SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker-C) pictures (right) and satellite imagery from Khmeimim airbase (center). Left: (Source: YouTube / Qasioun); Center: (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: The Aviationist); Bottom Right: (Source: Russia Beyond The Headlines).
Sukhoi Su-30SM (NATO reporting name: Flanker-C) allegedly flying in the south of Idlib. (Source: YouTube / Qasioun)

The second aircraft in the video appeared to be the Mi-24 (NATO reporting name: Hind) attack helicopter. Again, the Syrian Air Force does not possess these aircraft. Satellite imagery suggested a number of these aircrafts were also stationed in Khmeimim airbase.

Images from the video (left) compared with Mi-24 (NATO reporting name: Hind) pictures (right) and satellite imagery from Khmeimim airbase (bottom left). Top, Center Left: (Source: YouTube / Qasioun); Bottom Left (Source: GoogleMaps); Top Right: (Source: Foxtrot Alfa); Bottom Right: (Source: Barewalls).
Mi-24 (NATO reporting name: Hind) allegedly flying in the south of Idlib. (Source: YouTube / Qasioun)

Idlib is deep in the Syrian rebel territory, supposedly controlled by the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham rebels. Nonetheless, other groups of rebels are also active in the region. There were no recorded attacks in the area of Idlib on the day of the supposed aerial flights, but if the news agency claims are correct — Russian military was active deep into rebel held territory.

Conclusion

The official statements of Russian military operations in Syria stopped on the Russian MoD website, but the videos released by the Syrian news agencies suggest that activities did not stop. Even though there are no hard evidence of Russian military activity in Syria on December 28 and 31, but the videos released by local news agencies suggest that the alleged withdrawal of Russian military from Syria is far from reality. Open source evidence suggest that Russia remains highly involved with fighting Syrian rebels and does not release public statements regarding it.

@DFRLab will continue monitoring Russia’s military actions in Syria.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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