Here wsj.com explains what Moscow’s special forces teams have been up to in Syria.
Russian special-operations forces have played a pivotal part in the Syrian ground offensive to retake Aleppo, a role shielded by secrecy about their operations there.
In the wake of Russia’s punishing aerial bombardment, Russian special forces have been operating in Aleppo for almost two months, helping the Syrian army with a focus on targeting rebel leaders in the eastern half of the city, according to two experts on Russia’s military.
The elite troops are the same forces that carried out Moscow’s surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014. They are modeled on U.S. special-operations units—who also have a presence in Syria.
The presence of Russian special forces underscores the strategic importance for the Kremlin to make sure Aleppo is firmly in the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the allies seek to restart any negotiations on Syria’s future.
“Special operations soldiers are the people that are customized to neutralization” of terrorists, the Russian Federation Council Defense and Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov told Interfax on Monday. “This is no military operation. This is a special operation.”
Russian special-operations forces typically serve high-intensity operational deployments of a few months, a rotation schedule that is modeled on the U.S. military’s elite special-operations teams. The Russians have closely studied the American experience as part of a multibillion-dollar military modernization project that began earlier in the decade.
In 2012, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, then chief of the Russian General Staff, traveled to U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Florida to meet with military officials, according to the State Department.
The trip was meant to download Americans’ experience with special forces to help Russia create a similar force, an official close to the U.S. military said
.“From the helmets to the kit, they look almost identical,” the official said.
Mr. Bukkvoll said the forces in Syria are likely comprised of three groups, including the special forces unit of Russia’s military intelligence; another special-operations unit along the lines of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force; and a unit called zaslon, or “screen,” which gives protection to civilian leaders and diplomatic installations.