Errr Nobody’s flying the plane


During one of my airline simulator training sessions, the instructor put us about 10 miles from an initial approach fix, then she asked us to turn around so she could show us something. So focused were we on her, the first officer and I forgot to pay attention to the thrust levers. While she was talking, she began to slowly walk them back to idle thrust.

Airspeed rapidly fell off, but the autopilot kept us on heading and altitude, so our angle of attack rapidly increased. Within seconds, we approached a stall. I quickly turned back to the instrument panel and recovered, but by then our instructor’s point had been made. We had allowed ourselves to get so distracted that nobody was flying the plane.

We never want to admit we failed a task. We never want to admit we were not paying attention. We never want to admit nobody was flying the airplane. But these things happen.

“As I was attempting to dial in the ATIS, I was having trouble clearing the current frequency on the radio, and my passenger, a pilot, said he would fly the airplane while I tuned the radio,” wrote one pilot in his report to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System.

The pilot finally found and tuned in the correct frequency, so he announced ‘Got it.’”

His passenger thought the pilot meant that it was time to hand back control of the aircraft. So he did. The airplane began a shallow, descending right turn, increasing speed.

When the pilot saw they were about to fly into trees, he instructed his passenger to pull up immediately. The pilot realized what they had was a failure to communicate.

“We thought that the other was flying when actually nobody was flying the plane,” he concluded, adding, “We agreed that we would be more certain of cockpit communications in the future.”

Another pilot submitted a NASA report after his Bellanca Citabria ran into a hangar.

“During takeoff roll, airplane veered left. Applied right rudder did not correct aircraft attitude. Takeoff was aborted, but aircraft proceeded to strike hangar.”

This pilot was conducting a demonstration flight for a potential buyer. He was going to let the prospective buyer fly from the front seat, and he let that pilot perform the takeoff. Unfortunately, when that pilot lost control of the Citabria, the selling pilot was unable to gain control of it from his rear seat position.

“The airplane plowed into a hangar,” he wrote.

It’s not clear from the pilot’s report how he tried to gain control — by voice commands, by grabbing the yoke and pedals, or by a combination of the two — so an analysis of his actions is not possible.

Two captains were flying together on a Part 135 air taxi flight when they experienced an unfamiliar warning alarm.

“Both of us went into our problem-solving mode,” wrote the captain flying left seat. “Unfortunately, in our haste to solve the problem, we lost our common sense.”

Nobody was flying the airplane.

The source of the warning alarm was a comparator error between left and right ADIs (attitude direction indicators). On the particular airplane they were flying, an ADI error disconnects the autopilot, without an aural warning. Neither pilot knew the ADI fault would disable the autopilot.

Also, neither pilot noticed the visual annunciator for autopilot disconnect, as they were both too busy trying to solve the problem. The result of their lack of vigilance was an altitude bust.

In his report, the captain wrote he assumed the other captain would go into flying mode while he did the troubleshooting. The other captain assumed the same thing. Nobody ended up flying the plane.

A CRJ700 crew failed to begin a descent in order to make a previously issued crossing restriction. ATC had to remind them because they had become distracted by the disintegration of the co-pilot’s watch. Both pilots began searching for the missing watch pieces.

“When both pilots are distracted by something, nobody is flying the plane,” one of the pilots wrote. “I remember [an air carrier] going down in the Everglades because all three crew members were dealing with a burned-out gear position bulb.”

If three commercial pilots can forget to fly the airplane, imagine how easy it is for one general aviation pilot to get distracted.

Another pilot submitted a NASA report after a maintenance test/proficiency check flight almost went awry. The plane had a tandem cockpit. This pilot brought along his A&P mechanic, who was also a pilot, for the maintenance test flight portion.

“When I was finished with the test maneuvers,” he wrote, “I asked the other pilot if he wanted to fly. I misunderstood him and relinquished control.”

The airplane flew a random sightseeing track but then descended to approximately 500′ AGL over a golf course. The pilot asked the mechanic/pilot to climb.

“He replied that he thought I was flying. Turns out nobody was flying.”

It’s been said that two heads are better than one. It’s also been said that the worst person to fly with is another pilot. But why?

If we are to believe the Journal of Neuroscience, it’s our “lazy” brains that get us into these messes.

Our brains like to take shortcuts wherever they can. Mental shortcuts act as a way for the brain to conserve energy and work more efficiently, hence “lazy.” These little tricks and rules of thumb allow us to quickly make judgments and solve problems. But they don’t always work very well.

In my case, and in the examples of the NASA reports highlighted above, the mental shortcut was in trusting the other pilot on the flight deck to monitor the thrust levers.

We all fell victim to another psychological trap known as the “framing effect.” The way a problem is framed influences whether we decide to take a risk or play it safe.

There are two main theories explaining what drives the framing effect. One theory suggests that framing is caused by emotion: The prospect of having a second, aviation-skilled set of eyes onboard makes us feel good, and the prospect of having to handle the entire workload ourselves makes us feel bad.

The other theory argues that framing effects are the result of cognitive shortcuts ― in this case, a rule of thumb instructing the brain to accept sure gains and avoid sure losses. We assume that a second pilot on the flight deck makes us safer, when in fact, flight deck safety depends on a pilot’s behavior.

To investigate what causes the framing effect, psychologists at Duke University conducted brain scans on 143 study participants as they evaluated a number of scenarios.

The brain scans revealed that the participants’ brains were in a state of mental disengagement, or resting, while they made choices consistent with the framing effect. But when they made choices that overcame the framing effect, their brain activity resembled that of a brain in “working” mode.

However, the degree to which each trial’s brain activity resembled brain maps associated with emotion did not predict the participants’ choices.

This suggests that rather than emotion, it’s laziness — or, put another way, the brain’s desire to be efficient — that lies at the root of this cognitive bias.

“Our findings support the theory that the biased decision-making seen in the framing effect is due to a lack of mental effort rather than due to emotions,” said Dr. Rosa Li, a Duke University psychologist.

We make these kinds of mistakes all the time in the real world. So how can we defend against “The Nobody’s”?

One way is to think more practically, like a pilot I recently met. He told me he considers an inoperative autopilot a no-go item, even on VFR days. I asked him why, and he said, “Airlines use two pilots on every flight. My autopilot is my second pilot.”

However, even the use of an autopilot isn’t a guarantee. One flight crew en route from Tampa to Miami submitted a NASA report to explain their snafu

“First officer started down while I made my PA to the passengers, and focused on getting the ATIS and calling the company,” wrote the captain.

When he came back on, the aircraft was five miles from the assigned fix. At their descent rate, they were going to bust their altitude. He asked his FO where he was going. The FO thought that he had the autopilot in the NAV mode, not the HDG mode.

“I think the problem was that nobody was flying the airplane,” he wrote. “We needed to be more vigilant about inside the cockpit and not just outside.”

One of my flight instructors told me to always ask myself two sets of questions when I’m flying. The first set is: “What do I know? Who else needs to know? Have I told them yet?”

The second set is: “What don’t I know? Who does know? Have they told me yet?”

Perhaps asking these questions will help us lean against our “lazy” brains and ensure that somebody is always flying the plane.

Ed-sounds a good idea to me



Smack in the face for May as EU refuses to back British escalation over Skripal

The UK was quick to point the blame for the Salisbury attack – but its own allies are refusing to do the same. Reports suggest EU leaders gathering in Brussels are backing away from British attempts to condemn Moscow.

After former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to the A-234 nerve agent (also known as ‘Novichok’) in Salisbury, UK Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia. Britain said it was “highly likely” to be a Kremlin-backed act of aggression, despite repeated denials from Moscow.

READ MORE: Accusations and threats, but where are the facts? – Russia challenges West on truth

A draft text from EU talks on the matter has emerged condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the attacks. The phrase was added to the draft text that EU leaders will discuss at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, which was obtained by Politico.

© Toby Melville


However, the question of attribution was not changed. The UK has been pushing for the Kremlin to be recognized as the perpetrator. Yet, its allies in Brussels appear to be refusing to cast judgment ahead of the evidence, unlike Downing Street.

The text says: “The EU takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible. The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years. The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all. The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.


spot the difference

Diplomats familiar with talks said Greece and Italy did not want the language changed. “They say that there’s no smoking gun, or at least not yet,” said an EU diplomat to Politico. Greece has denied calling for alterations but admitted it lobbied for a more “clear” text.

Theresa May’s team has been hoping for unequivocal world backing, but has not received it. She expelled 23 Russian diplomats from London last week, and has threatened further punishment.

The UK said it was not a snub by Brussels that the language is cooler than last week, especially that used by Germany and France, but said getting 27 countries to agree is difficult. It is especially damaging for Theresa May after President Putin was praised by Trump in a call after his re-election on Sunday, despite her hopes the special friendship between the UK and the US would see Trump backing her fully.

Just read the phrase “Theresa May will tell a summit of EU leaders in Brussels that they must remain united…” on the BBC News site. Seriously, ‘U.K.’, you’re beyond parody now. The laughing stock of the world.

Jean-Claude Juncker also upset the UK after sending a congratulatory letter to Putin. EU leaders will discuss the new text over dinner at the European Council summit Thursday. Despite Britain’s allegations against Moscow, Russia has repeatedly insisted that the Kremlin had nothing to do with the attack on former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the UK PM’s allegations, saying it was “nonsense and absurd to claim that Russia would do anything like that before the elections and the World Cup.

Boeing 737 Max 7 Completes First Flight

Boeing’s 737 Max 7 flew for the first time last Friday, departing Renton Municipal Airport in Washington state for a three-hour and five-minute mission that saw the smallest of the new family of narrowbodies reach an altitude of 25,000 feet and a speed of 250 knots.

“We got the benefit of flying a really beautiful airplane today,” said Boeing test pilot Jim Webb. “This is the perfect start to the test program for this aircraft. We did a low approach at Moses Lake, tested some of the safety systems and verifications. We were able to shut down the engines and relight them. We really completed the profile exactly as it was written.”

As the third iteration of the new Max family to enter flight testing, the Max 7 will benefit from lessons learned during the Max 8 and Max 9 programs, according to Boeing test and evaluation captain Keith Otsuka. “The real advantage is that we have two models in front of it on this variant,” he remarked. “There are a lot of things we’ve known about the airplane that give us some advantages in the certification program.”

Championed by Boeing as the fastest-selling airplane in its history, the Max family has collected orders for more than 4,300 examples from more than 92 customers. CFM International Leap-1B engines power the family of aircraft and contribute most of the average 14-percent reduction in fuel use and CO2 emissions compared with the 737NGs. The Max 7, in particular, flies roughly 1,000 nautical miles farther than its predecessor, the 737-700NG, while burning some 18 percent less fuel.

Asked to gauge the prospects for the airplane, Webb expressed high expectations. “I think it’s going to be a great addition to the Max family,” he said. “It is small but mighty and the performance will make a lot of customers really happy.”

Southwest Airlines, WestJet, China’s Ruili Airlines, Jet Lines of Canada, and Air Lease Corporation account for the Max 7’s identified customers. It has also drawn orders from two business jet customers and one undisclosed operator. Boeing would not reveal order totals, however. “We do not discuss order numbers because we want to leave it up to our customers to pick the right model mix,” said Haber. “We do not make that information public.”

Earlier this year, and of pertinent note when considering the Max 7’s market outlook, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) ruled in favor of Bombardier in a dispute between the Canadian manufacturer and Boeing over alleged illegal government subsidies provided to the C Series program. Boeing claimed the subsidies allowed Bombardier to sell the C Series at a price far below their cost of manufacture, and thereby damage the prospects for what the U.S. company considers the competing Max 7. The USITC ultimately determined Boeing had not suffered any harm from the sale of 75 C Series CS100 jets to Delta Airlines in a ruling that superseded the U.S. Commerce Department’s proposed imposition of tariffs leveled at almost 300 percent of the airplane price.

Although Boeing publicizes only sales figures for the entire Max line, sales announcements so far clearly reflect a lack of Max 7 activity compared with the three other major variants. Out of the 4,300 Max jets sold, the Max 7 accounts for less than 100, far less than the 10 percent of the single-aisle demand Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth estimates airplanes in the Max 7’s seating category will more broadly collect. For his part, Haber advised patience. “If you look at the market today, there are around 2,500 737-700s and [Airbus] A319s out there,” he said. “There will be a replacement market for that. You say it doesn’t sell. I’d say it doesn’t sell yet.”

The Max 7’s performance capabilities support Boeing’s positive outlook for its place in the Asia market, in particular. “Because of its smaller size and Leap-1B engine, its high altitude and high temperature performance is unmatched,” added Haber. “That means that for any airline that uses the Max 7, it can open up new routes. If they need more seats, then they can go to the Max 8 or 9.”

Plans call for the aircraft soon to begin testing for high and hot conditions in China. “That’s where the Max 7 would work the best,” noted Haber.

Outside of the Asian market, Haber pointed to North America and South America as other strong  markets for the Max 7, while Europe remained questionable. “What we offer to customers is a full solution…with commonalities between the models,” he said. “Ninety percent commonality exists between the four members of the family and we want to give customers a choice of whatever works best for them.”

Boeing plans to continue flight testing of the Max 7 this week. The company delivered 74 Max 8s so far this year and it expects to deliver the first Max 9 to Thai Lion Air on Wednesday. Plans call for delivery of a high-capacity Max 8, known as the Max 200, along with the first revenue Max 7 to enter service in 2019. Meanwhile, the largest of the family—the 737 Max 10—remains on track for introduction into service around 2020.


Saratov Airlines Forced To Ground An-148s

Russian aviation authority Rostransnadzor on Tuesday issued an “inspector instruction” to Saratov Airlines calling for the grounding of its five remaining Antonov An-148s in response to flight safety concerns raised by the February 11 crash of one of the twinjets, in which all 71 people on board were killed.

Rostransnadzor is a Russian acronym for “The Federal Authority for Transport Oversight of the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation.” It acts as an executive federal authority that oversees national legislation and international agreements in the transport sector.

“We have come up with some findings,” said Rostransnadzor director Victor Basargin in response to questions from journalists about a report from the authority regarding the circumstances surrounding the crash. “We say that we have some issues discovered in relation to the [airline] personnel as well as to the [aircraft] manufacturer.” The watchdog’s head added that his organization plans to inspect “all other An-148 operators” to check whether or not they observe all technical procedures relevant to the type.

Basargin’s clarification appears to have added more confusion, as a number of local media outlets erroneously reported accounts of a nationwide An-148 grounding. The misreporting prompted Russia’s Angara Airlines to issues its own statement on Wednesday. “There have been no instructions, let alone the demand to ground our An-148-100Es, from the side of the aviation authorities,” it said. Other operators of the type—the ministries of defense and emergencies and Rossiya’s special aviation department, which serves the Russian government—continue An-148 flights without restriction.

Rostransnadzor has imposed restrictions due to expire in April on Saratov Airlines’ air operator certificate (AOC). As a result, Saratov grounded its An-148 fleet on Wednesday. According to Ilyushin Finance Company (IFC), from which the carrier leases the An-148s, aviation authorities have told Saratov to implement all necessary procedures prescribed, including all technical bulletins issued by the aircraft manufacturer. Meanwhile, Saratov Airlines continues flying its Embraer E190s and Yakovlev Yak-42Ds, even after one of its Yaks suffered an engine failure on March 1. The aircraft in question landed safely with passengers on board after one of the airplane’s three D-36 turbofans flamed out.

Although authorities have yet to publish a final report on the February 11 crash, Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK) has identified as a likely cause ice buildup on pitot tubes, which did not have functioning deicing, for unspecified reasons. The investigation revealed that a “dangerous situation” began to unfold two and a half minutes after liftoff, when the airline climbed at a speed of 250 to 253 knots. Local media have suggested that incorrect speed readings coming from the ice-clogged pitot tubes led to the accident. According to the airplane’s flight data recorder, the g-load factor varied from between +0.5 and 1.5 over the course of a minute as the pilots tried to keep control of their crippled aircraft. Once they failed, the airplane fell from an altitude of 6,250 feet to the ground.

by Vladimir Karnozov

 – March 21, 2018

Turkish fighter crashes in Syria

An F-16 fighter jet of the Turkish Air Force crashed in the central part of the country, the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces said Thursday.

“An F-16 aircraft deployed in the region for training crashed in the province of Nevsehir,” the General Staff said on Twitter.

The General Staff later said that the pilot has died in the crash. The search and rescue operation send to the area has discovered the wreck of the plane as well as the pilot’s body.

Recently, Turkish fighter jets have been conducting bombings YPG, PYD targets in the Syrian city of Afrin within the framework of Ankara’s military operation.

Local media reported that country’s F-16 jets conducted strikes on six targets in Afrin, while the Turkish Armed Forces simultaneously launched artillery shelling from the Kilis province, bordering Syria.

Source: Sputnik


تفاصيل المفاوضات حول سهل الغاب في حماه


ميدانية فقد “رفضت ثلاثة فصائل أي اتفاق مع الجانب الروسي بعدما طلب وفد الضباط الروس إلى المجلس المحلي المعارض والفصائل القيمة عليه رفع العلم السوري في قلعة المضيق وفي ثلاث عشرة قرية وبلدة محيطة بها حتى جبل شحشبو وجسر الشغور”، وقالت المصادر الميدانية أن “كلًّا من أحرار الشام وجيش النصر وجيش العزة رفضوا التسوية التي قدمها لهم وفد الضباط الروس”.

وقام مسلحو حركة احرار الشام بطرد وفد “المصالحة السوري” المؤلف من وجهاء مدينة قلعة المضيق، الذين اتوا للتفاوض على تسليم المنطقة للجيش السوري، وأكدت المصار الميدانية في حديثها ان “الفصائل الثلاثة بدأت عميلة تدشيم وتحصين لمواقعها في المنطقة وقد حشدت نحو أربعة آلاف مسلح لخوض معركة في قلعة المضيق بعدما انذرهم الجانب الروسي بإخلاء المنطقة خلال الأيام القادمة، في

وقت لا تشارك فيه هيئة تحرير الشام التي سحبت أرتالًا لها من منطقة المضيق باتجاه جبل الزاوية”.

Home  عربي  تفاصيل المفاوضات حول سهل الغاب في حماه

تفاصيل المفاوضات حول سهل الغاب في حماه

فشلت المفاوضات بين ضباط روس ومسؤولين عن الجماعات المسلحة التي تسيطر على قلعة المضيق في تخوم سهل الغاب، وحسب مصادر ميدانية فقد “رفضت ثلاثة فصائل أي اتفاق مع الجانب الروسي بعدما طلب وفد الضباط الروس إلى المجلس المحلي المعارض والفصائل القيمة عليه رفع العلم السوري في قلعة المضيق وفي ثلاث عشرة قرية وبلدة محيطة بها حتى جبل شحشبو وجسر الشغور”، وقالت المصادر الميدانية أن “كلًّا من أحرار الشام وجيش النصر وجيش العزة رفضوا التسوية التي قدمها لهم وفد الضباط الروس”.

وقام مسلحو حركة احرار الشام بطرد وفد “المصالحة السوري” المؤلف من وجهاء مدينة قلعة المضيق، الذين اتوا للتفاوض على تسليم المنطقة للجيش السوري، وأكدت المصار الميدانية في حديثها ان “الفصائل الثلاثة بدأت عميلة تدشيم وتحصين لمواقعها في المنطقة وقد حشدت نحو أربعة آلاف مسلح لخوض معركة في قلعة المضيق بعدما انذرهم الجانب الروسي بإخلاء المنطقة خلال الأيام القادمة، في وقت لا تشارك فيه هيئة تحرير الشام التي سحبت أرتالًا لها من منطقة المضيق باتجاه جبل الزاوية”.

المصادر الميدانية قالت أن “قلعة المضيق أصبحت خالية من السكان تماما بعد التطورات الأخيرة” وأضافت في حديثها أن “وفد الضباط الروسي قال للفصائل المتواجدة في المنطقة أن عليهم الانسحاب من المناطق الممتدة من قلعة المضيق مرورا بجبل شحشبوا وصولا إلى جسر الشغور خلال ايام قليلة مهددا بشن عملية عسكرية ساحقة في حال رفضهم الإنسحاب”.

وأكدت المصادر الميدانية ان “المناطق المذكورة تم الاتفاق على عودتها الى سيطرة الدولة السورية خلال مؤتمر استانة إثنين”.
وأشارت المصادر إلى “أهمية قلعة المضيق بالنسبة لحركة احرار الشام التي تسيطر على المدينة ومعبرها الذي يؤمن التواصل مع المناطق الخاضعة لسيطرة الدولة السورية، وهذه الأهمية هي اقتصادية بالدرجة الأولى حيث تقوم حركة احرار الشام بجباية الضرائب على البضائع التي تمر بالمعبر بالإتجاهين ما يدر عليها شهريا نحو اربعة ملايين دولار”. وأكدت المصادر الميدانية ان “”حركة أحرار الشام” أخلت معبر مورك الواقع على الطريق الواصل بين حماه وحلب وقامت بالتعاون مع “حركة نور الدين زنكي” وباقي الفصائل المنضوبة تحت راية “جيش تحرير سوريا” بعملية عسكرية خاطفة لتأمين عدم حصارها بعد تهديدات الجيش السوري والروس في قلعة المضيق وذلك عبر فتح طريق إمداد حيوي بين الغاب وجبل الزاوية من خلال السيطرة على قريتي حاس وكفرنبل بعد معارك مع هيئة تحرير الشام وتشكل البلدتان طريق امداد حيوي للفصائل المسلحة بسبب الهجوم المتوقع في قلعة المضيق ومن هذا الطريق سوف يتم

تامين احتياجات


لمصدر نيوز: AMN

Turkish-backed rebels seize 4 town so far

BEIRUT, LEBANON (7:10 P.M.) – The Turkish-backed rebels continued their advance in the Afrin region of northern Aleppo, today, seizing several areas from the Kurdish-led YPG and pro-government NDF troops.

Backed by Turkish airstrikes, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) managed to capture four towns located just a few kilometers away from the government strongholds of Al-Zahra’a and Nubl.

 transferir (28)

According to pro-opposition activists, the FSA seized the towns of Ba’ii, Basoufan, Kafranbo, and Burj Haidar from the joint YPG-NDF troops.

As a result of this advance, the Turkish-backed rebels now find themselves one town away from the government stronghold of Nubl.


الرئيس الأسد بين جنوده في عمق الغوطة الشرقية


قام الرئيس السوري بشار الأسد بعد ظهر اليوم الأحد بزيارة مفاجئة لوحدات الجيش العربي السوري المتمركزة في عمق الغوطة الشرقية.

وكانت الصفحة الرسمية لرئاسة الجمهورية قد نشرت الصور الأولى من

زيارة سيادته للغوطة الشرقية ، ولقاءه بالجنود السوريين هناك.



 المصدر نيوز: AMN





After the military defeat of ISIS, the three “peace enforcers” went their different ways.

The February 10 Israeli air force strike on the Tiyas (or T-4) military airbase near Palmyra, Syria brought the Syrian civil war into a new phase, as my Brookings colleagues Dror Michman and Yael Mizrahi-Arnaud recently argued. Russia overall finds its ability to control the complex Syrian conflict—particularly the interplays between the parties involved—much diminished. Just a couple of months ago, its mission of ensuring the survival of the internationally ostracized Bashar al-Assad regime evidently appeared so accomplished to President Vladimir Putin that he declared “victory” in Syria. But Russian forces on the ground are still taking casualties, Russia’s alliances are in disarray, and its Syria policy has lost decisiveness and direction.

The Russian military intervention, launched in September 2015, has always remained limited in scale, but Putin’s personal diplomacy worked as a force multiplier. He has been able to communicate with just about every stakeholder in the Syrian calamity, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, and from Israel to Hezbollah. The only message he is now trying to convey to his interlocutors is a vague promise not to interfere with their strikes and counter-strikes, which leaves few of them satisfied. The limits of Russian power projection capabilities have become exposed, and political ambivalence has aggravated that weakness. Putin keeps talking with Middle Eastern peers—for instance with Mahmoud Abbas, presented on the Kremlin website as “President of the State of Palestine”—but avoids elaborating on these matters, perhaps assuming that the Syrian theme doesn’t work all that well for his re-election campaign.


Establishing functional political and military cooperation with Iran and Turkey was a major breakthrough for Russia’s Syrian policy in 2017. The “brotherhood in arms” with Iran had been forged in fall 2015, as Russian bombers provided close air support for Iran-trained Shiite militias. Turkey, at that time, was fiercely opposed to the Russian intervention (after a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M in November 2015, for instance, it took months for the bitter quarrel to be resolved). Putin has exploited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fears, driven by the coup attempt in July 2016, and pulled him into the triangular proto-alliance with Iran aimed at enforcing a ceasefire in Syria on terms beneficial for Assad. The November 2017 trilateral Putin-Erdoğan-Rouhani summit in Sochi was the culmination of that effort, but with the military defeat of ISIS, the three “peace enforcers” went their different ways.


For Turkey, as another one of my Brookings colleagues Kemal Kirişci argues, the fight against ISIS was always of secondary importance, while the main battle was with the Syrian Kurds. Erdoğan is distraught about U.S. support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which has been the main fighting force in capturing Raqqa and pushing ISIS into far corners of Syrian desert. Seeking to break this alliance, Turkey launched an offensive into the Kurdish enclave Afrin in January. Russia had cultivated ties with the Kurds, but opted for sacrificing this “friendship” and gave consent for the Turkish attack when Chief of General Staff General Hulusi Akar and Chief of National Intelligence Hakan Fidan visited Moscow shortly before the offensive began. The Russian leadership has good reasons to assume that U.S.-Turkish tensions will escalate because of the Afrin offensive, so Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses Washington of ignoring Turkish concerns and building a “quasi-state” for Kurds in northeastern Syria. Meanwhile, the Turkish forces are encountering stiff resistance in Afrin, and Moscow is quietly encouraging the Assad regime to provide support for the Kurds.

For Iran, the key goal in Syria is to consolidate its military positions so that it can put pressure on the vulnerabilities of deployed U.S. forces and directly threaten Israel. Russian high command had deep reservations about Tehran’s plan to build a structure in Syria resembling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, instead of propping up the unreliable army. Israel’s severe retaliation for the recent Iranian drone incursion has pushed Russian policy into an awkward limbo. Putin highly values his personal ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Russian air defense assets deployed in its Tartus and Khmeimim bases—and covering most of Syrian airspace—did not interfere with Israel’s air strikes. The “made-in-Russia” Syrian air defense managed, nevertheless, to down one Israeli fighter plane, and now—after losing about a half of its assets—this system needs to be rebuilt, and Damascus will demand help from Moscow.


Firm Russian support for the Assad regime was aimed at making that support acceptable for most other parties to the Syrian war, but the defeat of ISIS has made that proposition more—not less—shaky. Erdoğan has never fully subscribed to it, but Iran is so eager to embrace the Syrian dictator that Netanyahu has urged Putin to prevent a further deepening of Assad’s dependency. This, however, would require an expansion of Russian aid and military presence, something Putin is reluctant to commit to. He never had any particular sympathy toward Assad, and saw Syria primarily as a key battlefield in the struggle against the menace of “color revolutions.” The decision on launching the intervention was taken in the Kremlin with very superficial understanding of the messiness of the multi-party war. But now, after publicly embracing the young(ish) dictator, he has to demonstrate resolve for sustaining support for the permanently insecure regime.

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Since last November, Moscow’s main plan has been centered on gathering a so-called “congress” of opposition groups of various persuasions, who would agree to stop fighting. But the results of the January gathering were disappointing. The Russian Foreign Ministry invited some low-profile representatives from Kurdish factions, but even that tentative acknowledgment of the key role of the YPG angered Turkey. Saudi Arabia had been ambivalent about this Russian initiative, but in the end opted against sending the delegation of groups under its control, so the event was reduced to a farce. Putin had a phone conversation with King Salman and met with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Moscow on February 15. This networking makes Assad more uncertain about Russian support and provokes more doubts in Tehran.


Syria is a security paradox for Russia vis-à-vis the United States, as Moscow seeks simultaneously to maintain military cooperation and defeat presumed U.S. political intentions in this messy conflict. This odd pattern was tested on February 7, when a heavy U.S. air and artillery strike destroyed a grouping of pro-government forces advancing to capture an oil plant to the east of the Euphrates. Russian social networks exploded with rumors about hundreds of casualties among mercenaries from the so-called “Wagner group,” and a few cases were reliably confirmed. The official position, however, remains complete denial of the first major direct clash between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria, which allows Moscow to act as if there’s been no damage in relations.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Putin on February 11, but the brief readout contained no mention of Syria. While there is some outcry in Damascus, calling the move a U.S. “war crime,” Putin can’t join in: U.S. command used the de-conflicting communication channel to warn its Russian counterparts about the forthcoming strike and make sure there were no Russian forces in the vicinity. It’s illegal in Russia to employ private defense contractors, so the Russian Defense Ministry cannot possibly admit that the mercenaries of the “Wagner group” were deployed in large numbers to compensate the withdrawal of regular troops after Putin’s declaration of “victory.”

Useful as it may be to pretend that the war business in Syria goes as usual, Moscow can hardly hope that its eroded positions would go unnoticed by the antagonists who are busy advancing theirs. Russia still has important assets in Syria and is exploiting the confusion in U.S. policy around the Iraq/Syria war zone. Its own policy, however, is distorted by a series of new challenges, which test its staying power. Putin thought that he figured out a proper balance of key drivers in the convoluted war, but its new mutation has caught him unprepared. The space for maneuvering between regional adversaries is narrowing, and Moscow can neither take sides nor secure its own ground.

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Pavel K. Baev

Nonresident Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe