​Digest: Russia Uses "Syrian Tactics" in Ukraine

A mural on the Ukraine war by Syrian artist Aziz Al-Asmar painted in Idlib, Thursday, 24 February 2022 / Photo credit: Bilal al-Hammoud, MEE
A mural on the Ukraine war by Syrian artist Aziz Al-Asmar painted in Idlib, Thursday, 24 February 2022 / Photo credit: Bilal al-Hammoud, MEE

Throughout the whole military invasion operation, we have seen russian forces applying their Syrian "experience" countless times. But let’s try to count them all

In today’s intelligence update on Ukraine, the British Ministry of Defense once again underlined that russia seemed to apply Syrian tactics in Ukraine.

For the urban fighting in Severodonetsk, russia commits personnel mobilized from the reserve in the occupied territories, the so-called "Luhansk People’s Republic". As mentioned in the intelligence report, these troops are poorly equipped and trained, they lack heavy equipment in comparison to regular Russian units.

Read more: Russian S-300 Fired Israeli Fighter Jets in Syria – Media

"The use of proxy infantry forces for urban clearance operations is a Russian tactic previously observed in Syria, where Russia employed V Corps of the Syrian Army to assault urban areas. This approach likely indicates a desire to limit casualties suffered by regular Russian forces," reads the British intelligence assessment.

Infographics: UK Ministry of Defense on Twitter

The confirmation of these assessments can be found in reports of the UK’s Ukrainian colleagues, the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine. The intercepted talks of soldiers from russian army and the pro-russian proxies, as well as other data collected by the intelligence, indicate the following. Ukrainians mobilized in the russian-occupied territories get directly involved in the hostilities on the frontline, often performing the role of cannon fodder.

Defense Express has already covered how some Ukrainian citizens in the temporarily occupied territories get forcibly mobilized in pro-russian illegal military formations, in violation of the war laws and the international humanitarian law.

In the course of these 100+ days of the invasion, there have been observed other cases when the russian command turned to their experience gained in Syria for the military activities in Ukraine. Defense Express has gathered the examples in this article.

Aerial bombardment

To begin with, since the first days of the war, russians launched intense aerial bombardments of Ukrainian military and even civilian objects. Some of the captive pilots appeared to be involved in russian combat operations in Syria.

One of them is Major Krasnoyartsev of the Russian Air and Space Forces. The Ukrainian security services and OSINT volunteers established he was involved in the bombings in Syria. He was captured during an air raid on residential areas in Chernihiv. According to the New Voice of Ukraine, the pilot is now waiting for the trial, charged with violation of the law of war.

Indiscriminate weapons

Next, russia proved to have little to no concern about local civilians in the targeted areas. Guided by the Syrian experience, russians shelled densely populated areas in big cities and small villages, civilian infrastructure. In their attacks, they also used unconventional weapons such as cluster munitions and phosphorous weapons.

A cluster munition carrier shell in the streets of Pokrovsk city in the Donetsk region, March 4, 2022.

"The targeting of populated areas within Mariupol aligns with russia's approach to Chechnya in 1999 and Syria in 2016," said the UK Ministry of Defense in another of its intelligence updates about the siege of Mariupol. "This is despite the 24 February 2022 claims of russia's Defense Ministry that russia would neither strike cities nor threaten the Ukrainian population."

And despite russia hasn’t ratified the convention that prohibits cluster weaponry, experts at the OSCE monitoring mission stated in their 100-page report that "in a number of cases, the use of cluster munitions was considered a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime." The reason is that the use of cluster munitions by the russians in Ukraine in densely populated areas "was in each case not excessive compared with the military advantage anticipated."

"Maneuver war" with towed artillery

Russian invaders are trying to combine towed and self-propelled artillery in one formation, with different calibers, in order to concentrate the maximum possible firepower on a narrow section of the front. This pattern worked out against irregular forces in Syria but proved to be not suitable for combat against the regular army of Ukraine.

russia’s towed howitzer D-30, illustrative photo of pre-war times

"Reconnaissance Strike" tactics

These tactics were "refined" by russian army in Syria, too. The "Reconnaissance Strike" implies the use of reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles to identify targets to be struck by combat jets or artillery. But the actual implementation in Ukraine faced a problem, as noted by British intelligence.

Russians became careful with the use of UAVs, essential for the task, due to their shortage which is caused both by Ukrainian air defense and economical sanctions. Vulnerable to being shot and jammed, they get downed quite often. At the same time, the manufacture of more drones requires foreign components, especially electronics, the import of which was banned by the sanctions.

Deployment of obsolete "Pike" armored vehicle

Labeled as a "mass grave of infantry", the "Ural Chekan" or "Shchuka" (Pike), is an armored fighting vehicle, primarily used by soldiers of private military companies, such as the Wagner Group.

The armor of this vehicle protects from bullets and debris from the top but seems to have no mine protection on its bottom. During russia’s wars in Syria and Africa, these armored vehicles repeatedly exploded on mines, having the crew inside completely eliminated, which is why the vehicle received the infamous title.

Destroyed "Ural Shchuka" in Syria / Open source photo

That’s it for now. Make sure to find more details about each one of the mentioned Syrian tactics in our dedicated articles. As the war continues, more details on russian tactics and weapons appear, so be sure to stay tuned with Defense Express and subscribe to our social media.

Read more: ​Incredible Accuracy – 20 russian Soldiers, 8 Combat Armored Vehicles Found and Eliminated