By Genevieve Casagrande and Jodi Brignola
Key Takeaway: Russia has continued its air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite the ongoing cessation of hostilities agreement that began on February 27. Russian airstrikes concentrated in opposition-held areas of northwestern Syria on February 28, following a lull in Russian airstrikes on February 27. The ceasefire, however, is largely holding, despite accusations from both pro- and anti-regime elements of violations of the agreement. The Russian MoD reported nine violations of the ceasefire by “terrorist” groups, “moderate” opposition factions, and Turkey. Head of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab accused Russian warplanes of conducting 26 airstrikes on February 28 targeting opposition factions that have announced their commitment to the truce. Hijab stressed that “negotiations will be unfeasible” amidst continued Russian use of cluster munitions and persistent violations of the ceasefire by the Syrian regime and its allies resulting in civilian casualties. Russian airstrikes have reportedly targeted the headquarters of U.S.-backed TOW anti-tank missile recipient Firqat al-Wasta in northern Hama Province on February 29. The likely continuation of Russian and regime air operations against mainstream elements of the opposition throughout western Syria under the guise of fighting terrorism will ultimately threaten the stability of any sustainable ceasefire agreement.
Note: ISW did not assess any strike locations with high confidence from February 17-18, 2016
The following graphic depicts ISW’s assessment of Russian airstrike locations based on reports from local Syrian activist networks, Syrian state-run media, and statements by Russian and Western officials. This map represents locations targeted by Russia’s air campaign, rather than the number of individual strikes or sorties.
High-Confidence reporting. ISW places high confidence in reports corroborated both by official government statements reported through credible channels and documentation from rebel factions or activist networks on the ground in Syria deemed to be credible.
Low-Confidence reporting. ISW places low confidence in secondary sources that have not been confirmed or sources deemed likely to contain disinformation.
Russian airstrikes intensified significantly in the hours before the ceasefire went into effect on February 27, with local reports claiming that as many as 100 Russian strikes targeted areas in northern Aleppo Province, alone. Russian strikes were concentrated in western Aleppo Province, northern Homs Province, and in the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus in the ten days leading up to the ceasefire. Russia nonetheless restarted its air operations against the Syrian opposition in areas of northwestern Syria on February 28, following a 24-hour lull in strikes.
The “cessation of hostiles” agreement as defined by Russia is far from a nationwide ceasefire. The Russian Ministry of Defense released the above map on February 27, stating that Russian air operations have “completely stopped” in areas highlighted in green. Russia continues to inaccurately portray the majority of opposition-held Syria as Jabhat al Nusra-controlled, represented in blue in the map above. The likely continuation of Russian air operations against mainstream elements of the opposition throughout western Syria under the guise of fighting terrorism will ultimately threaten the stability of any sustainable ceasefire agreement.