On Thursday, January 4, the Ministry of Defense reported the death of two Russian servicemen during the shelling of the military base of Khmeimim near the New Year. "December 31, 2017 with the onset of the dark time, the airfield Khmeimim was subjected to a sudden mortar shelling of the mobile subversive group of militants. As a result of the shelling, two servicemen were killed, "the ministry said (quoted by TASS).
The first about the attack on the base of Khmeimim on Wednesday, January 3, was reported by Kommersant referring to its own military-diplomatic sources. According to the publication, as a result of the attack by radical Islamists, the Russian military lost four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport aircraft. As a result of hitting a mortar shell, an ammunition depot was blown up, the interlocutors of the newspaper added. Also, the sources of Kommersant said that because of the attack on the base, more than ten military men could be injured.
The next day, the Defense Ministry called the message of "Kommersant" about the "actual destruction" of seven Russian military aircraft at the airbase Khmeimim "fake". "The Russian air group in Syria is combat-ready and continues to fulfill all tasks for its intended purpose in full," the defense ministry said in a statement. Until January 4, the Ministry of Defense did not comment on this attack of the militants and only reported on the December 31 downfall of the Mi-24 helicopter. According to official data, it crashed due to a technical malfunction during the flight from the airbase of Khmeimim to another Syrian region.
After the publication of Kommersant, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) in the Telegram Channel noted that no group had taken responsibility for what had happened in the last few days. The CIT added that none of the local residents published a video or photo of the results of the shelling of the Russian base, although so far "photos of the consequences of incidents near the air base of Khmeimim quickly found themselves in social networks."
The source of RBC in the Ministry of Defense said that during the attack one helicopter and SU-24 were damaged. "The shelling was conducted from the MLRS [rocket launcher systems] from the de-escalation zone, the mortars were working from the zone under the protection of Syrians. Two of the dead are helicopter pilots, "RBC's source in the Defense Ministry said.
According to him, the duty around the base was organized "as expected". "They shot rockets, but mortar rounds - it's almost impossible to knock them down. [The consequence of the attack will be] a complete sweep and expansion of the [protected] zone [around the base]. When they shoot in the back, they are not always ready for it, "the source said.
A zone of de-escalation or a neutral zone means a territory that includes the province of Idlib, parts of the Latakia and Hama provinces. It was established within the framework of the ceasefire regime established between Russia and Iran and Turkey in late December 2016 between government forces and various formations of moderate opposition. This zone remains the most restless and problematic among the four de-escalation zones created. The difficulty in enforcing the agreements is due to the concentration in the province of Idlib of a large number of militants of the terrorist group "Hayat Tahrir ash-Sham" (the previous name is the Front for An-Nusra), which is not subject to a truce. So far, the problem of separating terrorists and moderate opposition is acute in Syria.
Risks of Sabotage
A source in the Defense Ministry told RBC that the attack was on the part of the Front-Al-Nusra organization (banned in Russia). The base could have been shelled by supporters of the Front-Al-Nusra terrorist group, which are concentrated in the Syrian province of Idlib, agrees the editor-in-chief of Arsenal of the Fatherland, Victor Murakhovsky.
According to the expert, behind the attack on Khmeimim was not a "powerful group", but a small sabotage group. "This is one, a maximum of two cars, in the back of which is installed a Soviet 82-mm mortar. Such mortars supplied to Syria during the Soviet Union in the hundreds, if not thousands, "- said glavred" Arsenal of the Fatherland "RBC. In his opinion, the fire attack could last about 1-1.5 minutes from a distance of up to 3 km, and 30-40 minutes could be fired from two mortars at the airfield. "Such mines are one of the most dangerous ammunition for unarmored combat equipment. For a minute they fired, put the mortar into the body, rolled it up with a tarpaulin and went off, "Murakhovsky explained. The air defense system did not detect mines because of their small size, unlike reactive unguided projectiles, the expert added.
Murakhovsky estimates the number of remaining militants in Syria in 2,5-3 thousand people. The question remains who should be considered terrorists in Syria, since "this is a very stretchable concept," said Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, RBC. "Tens of thousands of people are enrolled in groups opposing Bashar Assad," he said.
The military columnist for Novaya Gazeta, Pavel Felgenhauer, believes that after a sabotage attack at the Khmeimim air base, construction will begin to strengthen its defenses. "The aircraft were in open territory, in some shield houses - personnel. There, probably, without treason from the Syrian comrades did not do.
The base must be equipped with underground caponiers to protect equipment and people. The base Khmeimim was originally a civil airfield, which was quickly turned into a military airfield, "he argues. According to Felgenhauer, the long perimeter of the Khemeymim base is guarded by the Syrian authorities, and this creates a big problem, because "nobody loves Russia in Syria", resistance to the Bashar Assad regime will continue, and all this creates serious difficulties for long-term basing in a hostile territory. "Probably, they [the Syrian authorities] will find someone and demonstratively hang it, but that does not mean anything," the expert concluded.
Shortly before the attack on Khmeimim, in mid-December, President Vladimir Putin, during a visit to Syria, ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country. Later in the Federation Council, RBC explained that, in the republic there will remain Russian bases, including the air base of Khmeimim. Expert Khramchikhin believes that all public statements about the entry and withdrawal of the Russian group from Syria are "propaganda", since the strength of the group depends on "necessity", not on official statements.
Since the beginning of 2017 in Syria, 131 Russians were killed, Reuters reported last October. Among them there are military servicemen who served under the contract, sources of the agency said.