Russia Spending $4 Million a Day in Syria to Back Assad Regime

In this image made from video provided by Homs Media Centre smoke rises after airstrikes by military jets in Talbiseh of the Homs province, western Syria, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (Homs Media Centre via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Homs Media Centre smoke rises after airstrikes by military jets in Talbiseh of the Homs province, western Syria, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (Homs Media Centre via AP)

The rough estimate of what the Syrian intervention is costing Russian President Vladimir Putin is about $4 million daily, or ess than half of what the campaign against the Islamic State is costing the U.S.

Unlike the U.S., the Russian Defense Ministry has put out no information on the costs of its operations in Syria, but an analysis prepared by Britain's IHS Jane's think tank for the Moscow Times estimated the cost at about $4 million daily, with a total of between $80 million and $115 million spent from Sept. 30, when airstrikes began, through Oct. 20.

The total excluded the costs of the 26 3M14 Kalibr long-range cruise missiles fired by Russia's Caspian Flotilla in the Caspian Sea into Syria on Oct. 7. Russia has denied reports that four of those missiles went off course and landed in Iran.

Todd Harrison, a military budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the costs of the Russian cruise missiles were "roughly similar" to those of the U.S. Tomahawk ship-fired cruise missiles, or about $1.2 million apiece.

In addition, the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, and its support ships have been on station off the coast of Syria since last September at a cost estimated by IHS Jane's at $200,000 daily.

According to Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces (ADF) now have operating out of the Hmeymim airbase near Latakia in northwestern Syria more than 30 fixed-wing aircraft, including 12 Su-24M strike aircraft, 12 Su-25 close air support aircraft, four modern Su-30SM fighters and six new Su-34 strike aircraft.

The Russians are also believed to be flying about 20 Mi-24P "Hind" attack helicopters out of the Hmeymim airbase.

Russia has continued to build up ground forces in Syria to maintain and support its air arm in solidifying the rule of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told reporters in Brussels last week.

"The recent reinforcements of the last week or so do feature a battalion-sized ground force," Lute said.

Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Jeffrey White, now a defense fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a recent article "Russian ground forces include what appears to be a reinforced naval infantry battalion (from the 810th Naval Infantry Brigade), with armored personnel carriers (BTR-80 types) and attached main battle tanks (T-90s) and field artillery."

"U.S. officials have also noted the presence of the potent BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher system. Other force components include SA-22/Greyhound surface-to-air missiles for air defense, electronic warfare (signal jamming) systems, and naval units operating off the Syrian coast, most likely to bolster air defense and provide communications and intelligence support," White said.

The Russian buildup also now includes Russian special forces units which have been diverted from the Russian effort to bolster separatists in eastern Ukraine, according to Russian officials.

White said Russia's involvement in Syria appeared intended for the "long haul," an opinion shared by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

"This is a new reality for us strategically," Carter said of the Russian buildup at the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army earlier this month. "but it looks like it's here to stay."

Last week, the Pentagon said that Russian airstrikes were supporting ground offensives on five fronts in northwestern Syria by Assad's forces backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Syrian forces were moving from the south and southwest on the Idlib area "supported by Russian airstrikes and artillery." Another offensive was "moving from the southeast on Aleppo enabled by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah," Davis said.

The question remained as to how long Putin could continue to afford the Syrian operation, given the toll of Western economic sanctions and the continuing costs of his takeover in Crimea, and support for the separatists in Ukraine as well as major military exercises in the Arctic and eastern Europe.

The effects of the Russian airstrikes thus far have been to worsen the already disastrous humanitarian crisis in Syria, where more than 250,000 have been killed in more than four years of civil war.

Last week, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that another 120,000 people have fled from Aleppo, Hama and Idlib provinces to escape the Russian airstrikes.

--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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