EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: As a result of Moscow’s geopolitical considerations in Syria, chief among them the desire to avoid direct confrontation with the US and Israel, Russia’s air defenses in the region have assumed the tasks of political intimidation and reassurance. The Kremlin has issued warnings to both Israel and the US-led anti-ISIS coalition not to strike forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Russia is unlikely to attempt to engage Israeli or coalition aerial assets unless its own forces are attacked or the assets approach Russian military installations too closely. Even then, intercepting them will be no easy task. While Russia’s modern air defenses in Syria are formidable, they are not “game-changers.”
In early October 2016, Russian Defense Ministry chief spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned the US-led anti-ISIS coalition that “Russian air defense crews are unlikely to have time to clarify via the [de-confliction] line the exact flight path of missiles and who their carrier platforms belong to,” adding that “any air or missiles strikes on territory controlled by the Syrian government will pose a clear threat to Russian military servicemen.” The warning, issued in response to an accidental US strike against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad the previous month, renewed fears that Russia may attempt to target coalition and Israeli aerial assets.
Since then, however, both the US and Israel have struck pro-regime targets in Syria with no blowback from the Kremlin. Why has Moscow proven reluctant to respond?
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