It was bad enough when Russian staff officers and Defense Ministry analysts said it but now foreign nations are saying it too; Russia is weak and getting weaker both economically and militarily. The navy rebuilding program has collapsed because the shipbuilding industry was never able to modernize after 1991 and lost its best people to migration or better jobs elsewhere in Russia. The air force is better off because export orders from China and India kept warplane production and development going. But China was buying mainly so they could clone the latest Russian designs and eventually go on to producing their own designs which they are now doing. The army is stuck with a lot of Cold War era weapons and a growing personnel shortage. Prospects for improvement are dim and the government has resorted to the Iranian tactic of full time faking it. That means a continuous stream of press releases about new weapons and technologies that, at best, exist in small quantities and in most cases are still stuck in development. This works for a while but eventually becomes tragicomic and counterproductive. Western media will eat this fluff up for much longer because it provides viable clickbait. But the military analysts (intel and staff experts) know better as do American troops who have served anywhere near Russian troops. Israel also provides a lot of useful data as so the recent NATO members from East Europe. The military decline is also accelerated by chronic Russian economic problems and persistent corruption.
Since the oil price collapse in 2013 the Russian economy has contracted and the government budget had to shrink along with it. Russian leaders compounded the problem by invading Ukraine in 2014 and triggering economic sanctions. The government response was a growing number of threats to shoot back at imaginary enemies (mainly NATO nations) using weapons Russia did not have or would not dare use (the nukes). It was also public knowledge that the military could not recruit or conscript enough men to keep the armed forces (now officially 8o percent smaller than when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991) up to strength (about a million personnel). Press releases from the Defense Ministry declare the creation of dozens of new brigades and divisions for which there are no troops. New weapons are either not delivered or do not work when they are. Another obvious problem is that needed work to rebuild decrepit or non-existent Cold War era infrastructure (roads, railroads, utilities and such) has come to a halt. The financial and economic problems increase dependence on China. Meanwhile, China is also having problems that tend to spotlight how weak Russia is.
For example, China recently admitted that several years of personnel changes in the military had fundamentally transformed its armed forces. For the first time in history the Chinese army comprises less than half the personnel in the armed forces, the majority belong to the navy, air force, strategic missile forces, space force and Cyber War forces. Chinese have long called their armed forces the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) but in the last decade it has more common even for the media to refer to the “Chinese army”, navy, air force and so on. This process has been going on since the 1990s and the major shift took place in the last five years. In 2013 there were 2.3 million personnel and about two-thirds of that was the army. In the last five years, there were major cuts in army strength (something that has been going on since the 1990s) and rapid growth in the navy (mainly) as well as the other services. Military strength is now less than two million. This has not gone unnoticed in Russia, although there the state-controlled mass media maintains a strict silence about how the Chinese military is not only twice the size of Russian forces, but has far more modern equipment, both in terms of quality and quantity. China also had a defense budget that is more double what Russia can afford. This also means that in the Russian-Chinese relationship China is now the senior partner, in both economic and military terms. Russia is no longer an ally of China but a client state, dependent on Chinese goodwill and financial aid. China has also not mentioned the claims on most Russian territory bordering the Pacific and Mongolia. China never renounced these claims and occasionally mentions them (quite bluntly in the 1940s, 50s and 70s and more frequently but discreetly since the 1980s.)
Chinese economic capabilities have their limits and that was seen in the effort to provide Russia with a way around American banking sanctions that prevented export customers to pay for Russian weapons. China offered to help and that did not work in many cases. Thus Russia has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of weapons in the last few years that were not paid for. The buyer is obliged to pay when the banking sanctions are lifted but in the meantime, Russia has (in most cases) paid the Russian workers and component suppliers. That explains why the Russian government spending on defense and infrastructure have declined so sharply. Another reason for that decline is the expense of Russian military operations in Syria. Even though Russia tried to wage this effort on the cheap that did not work out as expected. Russian public opinion was very much against sending conscripts so much more expensive contract (volunteer) troops were sent, along with even more expensive security contractors (former Russia troops with special skills). More combat bonuses had to be paid as well as high death benefits. The Syria war also revealed that while Russia had smart bombs and missiles they had few of them stockpiled and the Syria fighting exhausted that stockpile. Now, most of the Russian airstrikes in Syria are with dumb (unguided) bombs. The Russian Navy put a lot of warships off the Syrian coast which backfired because the lack of training and experience demonstrated by the crews, as well as the decrepit state of the ships explained why Russian admirals openly complain of a Russian Navy that is rapidly shrinking because Cold War era ships cannot be replaced and many of those that are replaced with new ships find the new warships are often defective.
China is seeking to buy all or part of key Ukrainian defense manufacturers in order to improve weak areas of the Chinese defense manufacturing capabilities. One key area is helicopter manufacturing and Ukraine has a firm, Motor Sich, that is a world leader in building helicopter engines and other components as well as turbine engines for warships. Ukrainians, in general, are not willing to see what many consider a national treasure become Chinese owned. China has been buying components from Motor Sich since the 1990s and wants to get access to its trade secrets and key personnel. The Ukrainians are wary and the Chinese are relentless. Russia is nervous as well because until 2014 Russia was also dependent on Motor Sich (and other Ukrainian firms) for some key aircraft and industrial components. As long as Russia is occupying Crimea and parts of Donbas those business relationships are blocked and Russia has not been successful in creating adequate Russian suppliers.
The war in Ukraine is heating up. In Crimea, Russia is still holding three Ukrainian ships (a tug and two patrol boats) and the 24 Ukrainians on board that were seized last November while traveling from the port of Odessa (west of Crimea) to the port of Mariupol in Donbas and 800 kilometers southeast of Kiev. The incident occurred to stop the Ukrainian ships from going under the Kerch Strait Bridge and into the Sea of Azov. After that Russia stationed warships under the Kerch Strait Bridge to block any unwanted traffic. The Kerch Bridge is too low (35 meters above the water) for 30 percent of the ships that usually use Mariupol, which is the largest Ukrainian port east of Crimea. Worse, the Russian backed rebel front lines are less than 14 kilometers from Mariupol which had a population of 450,000 before the Russians invaded five years ago. Because of construction activity on the Kerch Bridge shipping activity at Mariupol was only 28 percent of capacity. Ukraine sees this blockade of the Sea of Azov as an illegal effort to make it more difficult to supply Eastern Ukraine and make Mariupol more vulnerable to attack.
Since late 2018 Russia has been moving warships from the Northern Fleet (Barents Sea) and the Pacific fleet to the Black Sea to reinforce ships already there in case there is a confrontation with NATO over Russian threats to restrict access to the Sea of Azov. Those restrictions were imposed on November 25th. As 2019 began Russian warships and aircraft were patrolling the Sea of Azov and adjacent Black Sea areas more frequently, often harassing foreign ships, not just Ukrainian ones.
This all began back in April 2018 when Russia declared the Sea Of Azov, reached from the Black Sea via the 4.5 kilometer wide Kerch Strait, was now under Russian control. The Crimean Peninsula, when it was part of Ukraine, was separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait. Maximum depth of the strait is 18 meters (59 feet) and there had long been talk of building a bridge between Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula (now and always part of Russia). Once Russia seized Crimea in 2014 proposals that a bridge be built actually turned into construction activity. The Kerch Bridge opened in March 2018 (at least the highway part, the sturdier railroad section is not finished). With that Russia declared the Sea of Azov under Russian control and no foreign ship could enter with Russian permission.
So far the Russians have seized over a hundred ships trying to reach the Ukrainian ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol that are on the shore of the Sea of Azov. Russia is putting these two ports out of business. The EU and U.S. protested the Russian blockade but have not done anything to get that changed, like sending American warships to conduct a FONOP (freedom of navigation operation) in the Sea of Azov. So far no NATO warships have sought to enter the Sea of Azov but more NATO warships are entering the Black Sea and visiting Ukraine.
On land, a new ceasefire was agreed to on December 29th but Russian backed rebels in Donbas began 2019 with several days of heavy attacks on Ukrainian troops. The attackers, many of them Russian, suffered casualties, including several dead and over a dozen wounded. The Ukrainians held their positions. Ukraine points out that 32 percent of their military dead in Donbas were suffered after the original 2015 ceasefire was signed. This ceasefire has been continually violated with numerous small attacks and renewed, only to be violated once more. The front lines have remained stable but the casualties have continued to occur, to local civilians as well as armed forces on both sides of the ceasefire line.
Russia and Iran are united when it comes to opposing a planned Turkish offensive against Kurdish control of most of the Syrian border with Turkey. Russia and Iran see these Turkish plans as reckless and likely to trigger a major military confrontation with the United States. Russia and Iran would not mind seeing Turkey expelled from NATO but not at the expense of endangering Russian and Iranian forces in Syria.
There are a number of other complications in Syria. Iran has problems with Israel in Syria, as well as its own allies. The Iranians want the Assads to accept Iranian domination (as Hezbollah does in Lebanon) and agrees with Turkey the Syrian Kurds should not get autonomy and should accept rule by Iran backed Syrian government as well as Turkish control of border areas. Iran has a major problem in that no one wants them in Syria much less acting as an occupying military force in Syria dedicated to starting a war with Israel.
The Russians would prefer that the Turks and Iranians got out of Syria and that the Assads and Kurds worked out a compromise (which the two seem willing to do). The Americans, Israelis and most other Middle Eastern nations agree with this approach.
Israel wants Iran out of Syria and would prefer that the Kurds got their autonomy. Israel is willing to make a peace deal with Syria and Turkey. Israel has successfully attacked Iranian efforts to build a military infrastructure (bases, arms factories, forces on the Israeli border) in Syria and this has made the Iranian leadership angrier and very frustrated. Iran is seen as even more unstable and unpredictable than Turkey.
The Americans (and most NATO members) want Turkey to act more like a NATO member and less like a Turkey trying to reestablish its imperial influence in the Middle East and Islamic world. The Turks are seen as unreliable and dangerous by just about everyone. For somewhat different reasons the Iranians are viewed the same way. The Americans are also threatened with attack and destruction by the Iranians but the Turks still like to at least pretend they are a NATO member in good standing and would like the Americans to appreciate what the Turks are trying to do. The West has been unable to understand, appreciate or support whatever it is the Turks are trying to do. The Americans are trying to negotiate some sort of compromise with the Turks but this is not going well and the Turks seem less concerned about being expelled from NATO and regarded as a hostile force than to the Americans and other NATO members.
At the end of January, the United States imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state oil company, which is the only means China and Russia have to get over $40 billion in Venezuelan loans (mainly Chinese) paid back. This move encourages China to back Interim president Juan Guaido as the legitimate acting president of Venezuela (over the incompetent socialist incumbent Nicolas Maduro). While Guaido has made it clear he is willing to work with China, it is only implied that the Americans will go along with this. Russia is in a less favorable position because it is already heavily sanctioned. But Russia is also more accustomed to evading sanctions and has used to become the supplier of needed petroleum products. Venezuela needs petrol (gasoline), diesel and other refined products as well as naphtha (a chemical essential to thin the sludge-like Venezuelan crude so it can be refined or, in some cases, flow through a pipeline. Getting all this stuff from Russia required a large price increase to cover the costs of evading the sanctions. Russia was not the only one willing to provide their petroleum products but Russia was favored because Maduro is trying to persuade Russia to help keep the revolution at bay, or at least get Maduro and his family to safety in an emergency. Russia has apparently already made plans to do this, with Russian air transports mysteriously standing ready at Caribbean airports for some unspecified job.
The American sanctions meant a lot of overseas assets and money owned the Venezuelan government went to the internationally recognized Interim president Guaidó. One of the first things Guaidó did with this money was arrange for massive amounts of emergency food and medical supplies to be sent to Venezuela. Maduro ordered troops to block roads at border crossings where the food was to enter the country. His Russian media advisors recommended that the food and medical aid was blocked because it was contaminated. That backfired and is one reason Maduro is increasingly concerned about the reliability of his troops.
Earlier Maduro hired Cuba to provide technical advisors who could to show the Venezuelan socialists how to establish and maintain a long-term dictatorship. That did not work out because there was no money for it. China, Cuba, Iran and Russia are all present in Venezuela and with all that oil as collateral the Venezuelan socialists thought they had a safety net that would keep them in business. That option is now gone and the Maduro government is not only bankrupt and but unable to pump and ship enough oil to pay for food and other essential imports. In theory, China could rapidly expand its current efforts to rebuild the oil production facilities and also lend more billions to Maduro for food and other supplies. But China is unlikely to bankroll a longshot option like that. Guaidó has offered to respect deals already made with China. In early February China made it clear that it was not taking sides in Venezuela and would cooperate with whoever was in charge. This came less than two weeks after Juan Guaido claimed he was the legal interim president of Venezuela. Most Western Hemisphere nations and many European ones backed Guaido (as did most Venezuelans). The United States and EU nations are assisting Guaido in taking control of billions of dollars in cash and other assets belonging to Venezuela that are located in the U.S. and Europe. On the basis of all this Guaido made it clear that he will respect current economic deals and is willing to work with Russia and China, currently Venezuela’s largest creditors. Maduro has the active support of Cuba, North Korea, Iran and perhaps Russia. With allies like that, you are in big trouble.
A few days after Guaido declared his claim to the presidency, Russia agreed to extend payment of Venezuelan loans by ten years. Since 2017 Venezuela has been unable to repay most of its foreign debt. Starting in 2006 Russia has loaned Venezuela $17 billion, much of which (Russia won’t say how much) has not been repaid but since Venezuela has not got the cash and given the current state of its economy will not have any additional cash anytime soon Russia “extended” payments. In return Venezuela allowed Russia to invest $6 billion in oil and gold mining projects in Venezuela. These projects probably won’t begin until the Venezuela economy recovers, meaning not for a long time. Venezuela currently owes more than $120 billion to foreign lenders. Guaido is also negotiating with the Russians, who are inclined to follow the Chinese lead in all this. China has not made any decisive moves yet other than it opposes “foreign intervention” even in the form of food and medical aid. China also urges Guaido and Maduro to negotiate an end to the crises. This is an ominous suggestion as Maduro does not consider Guaido someone he should negotiate with.
Corruption remains a major problem for Russia and years of well-publicized effort to deal with it have failed and Russia is stuck near the bottom of the list when it comes to clean government. Currently, Russia ranks 138th out of 180 nations compared with 135 in 2017 in international rankings. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85.
The current Russian score is 28 (versus 29 in 2017) compared to 32 (30) for Ukraine, 44 (44) for Belarus, 60 (60) for Poland, 80 (81) Germany, 63 (61) for Taiwan, 41 (40) for Turkey, 40 (40) for India, 39 (41) for China, 57 (54) for South Korea, 14 (17) for North Korea, 33 (35) for Vietnam, 85 (84) for Singapore, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 31 (33) for the Maldives, 36 (34) for the Philippines, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (28) for Bangladesh, 28 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 29 (30) for Burma, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 72 (75) for the United States, 27 (27) for Nigeria, 43 (43) for South Africa, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia and 28 (28) for Lebanon.
The Russian corruption score has not changed much since 2012 when it was 28.
February 26, 2019: Russia donated $9 million worth of military radar and command and control systems to Tajikistan. While second-hand, the equipment is modern and will improve the ability of Tajikistan to monitor and control its air space, especially along its border with Afghanistan. In 2013 the Tajik parliament approved an extension of the military cooperation treaty with Russia to 2042. This included Russia continuing to station 6,000 troops there, mainly on the Afghan border to help keep out drugs and Islamic terrorists. All this required operating three Russian bases in Tajikistan. Russia also continues to train Tajik military personnel (mainly officers) and supply weapons and ammo at low cost or for free. The Russians also agreed to provide trainers to improve the skills of all Tajik soldiers. Tajikistan was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and borders Afghanistan.
February 24, 2019: The last 48 hours saw an unusually large number of anti-government protests throughout Russia. The weekends are the most popular time to hold a public protest as more people have time off for it. While many of the protests are purely political there are a lot more demonstrations over pollution during the cold weather because in many parts of Russia the pollution is so bad that the snow falling is black, brown or even green. This makes the heavy pollution even more visible. Another protest staple is government incompetence and rampant and obvious corruption among local government officials. There is more to the unrest than pollution, more of the most capable Russians are simply emigrating. Since the current Putin government took control in 1999 nearly two million Russians have left for better economic and other opportunities elsewhere. Worse nearly half those who left had a college education and most of them had advanced degrees (and better career prospects outside Russia. The longer Putin has been in power the more of these highly educated Russians have left.
February 23, 2019: In Syria, the Americans are proposing a force of 400 “peacekeepers” to stand between Turkish forces and the Syrian Kurd forces (mainly the SDF). Russia backs the Americans in this respect and the Assads do as well, as part of their “we are the legitimate government of Syria.” The Assads are willing to grant the Syrian Kurds the autonomy they want if Iranian and Turkish opposition can be overcome. Russia proposing to supply a similar peacekeeper force but the Kurds prefer the Americans whose pro-Kurd efforts have been more reliable and long-term than any other major power has provided. The Kurds do appreciate the Russian offer, which may be the main reason the Russians made it.
February 22, 2019: Russia has brought some half a million ethnic Russians into Crimea since the Black Sea peninsula was seized by in 2014. The population then was 2.2 million and a few percent of those left and many of those who remained were hostile to their new Russian rulers.
February 21, 2019: Ukraine reports that Russia has nearly 500 tanks in Donbas, plus nearly a thousand infantry armored vehicles, as well as 900 artillery weapons, over a third of them self-propelled and 15 percent of them MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems). Ukraine also reported that nearly 3,000 Ukrainian troops had died in five years of fighting and several times as many wounded. Ukrainian intelligence (which has proved to be quite accurate) estimates that the Russian backed rebels have suffered about the same number of casualties. Most of those losses were Russian military personnel. Overall 13,000 have died in Donbas (most of them civilians) with 30,000 wounded. Some 1.5 million locals have been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.
February 20, 2019: On the Syria-Iraq border American troops continue to occupy positions in Syria at the Tanf border crossing to Iraq. This key crossing is near the Jordan border. With the American forces present there is a 55 kilometers “deconfliction zone” maintained by American forces that unwelcome military forces (Russian, Syrian and Iranian) are banned from. The unwelcome are unhappy about this and have expressed their feelings by not allowing supplies to reach the American run refugee camp within the zone. Most of the 50,000 Syrian refugees are women and children and the U.S. has to bring in all the supplied from Iraq.
February 14, 2019: Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran met and agreed that there would be no military offensive against the thousands of Islamic terrorists trapped in northwestern Syria (Idlib province) but that other, unspecified, measures would be taken to increase the pressure on the trapped Islamic terrorists to surrender. There were also no details on the issue of recent fighting between pro-Russian Syrian Assad troops and Iranian mercenaries. Russia and Iran are competing for the position of the main foreign supporter of the Assad government. The Assads would prefer the Russians, who are not as ideologically fanatic, economically weak and diplomatically isolated as Iran. Russia has to be careful here because the Iranian ground forces (over 20,000 Shia mercenaries) are the largest infantry force in Syria. Russia does not want a war with Iran but they do not want Iranian forces to remain in Syria because Iranian plans for Syria will not end well for anyone.
February 13, 2019: Russia agreed to lend Iran $5 billion dollars in the form of economic aid projects and euros. Iran is resorting to a wide array of techniques to get around the resumed American sanctions. The Iranians are having some success but the economic situation continues to get worse and the public protests are more frequent.
February 11, 2019: Russia once more proclaimed that Israeli airstrikes in Syria were illegal. At the same time, Russian officials agree that Israel has the right to defend themselves. Russia also refuses to open fire on Israeli aircraft or missiles. The Russians want to avoid a demonstration of Israeli countermeasures that work. This would reduce confidence in Russian weapons, which are an important export item for Russia.
February 9, 2019: Russia and Iran claim that Israeli military intelligence personnel are operating in western Afghanistan (Herat province) from the American portion of the Afghan Shindand Air Base. This base is 120 kilometers from the Iranian border and has long been used for American air surveillance operations along the Iranian border and inside Iran as well. Back in 2009 the U.S. Air Force admitted that it was operating the new, jet-powered RQ-170 UAV in Afghanistan. At that point, the RQ-170, which looks like a miniature B-2 bomber, had been in development for over six years. It was believed to be flying over Iran, which would be a real test for a stealthy UAV like this. This turned out to be the case and in 2011 an RQ-170 crashed in Iran and the Iranians recovered and restored the damaged UAV. Israel and the United States often cooperate on intel collecting operations and there have been earlier reports about Israeli experts coming to Afghanistan to assist in the effort to monitor what is going on in Iran.
February 8, 2019: The government is openly lobbying Arab governments to allow Syria back into the Arab League. Russia made it clear that it will support “Arab interests” in Syria in return. This is easier to do now that Israel and the major Arab nations are now allies. Russia is already being useful by opposing Turkish plans to occupy a 30 kilometer deep “security zone” on the Syrian side of the border. This is seen by the Syrian (Assad) government and most Arab countries as offensive and unnecessary. Arab antagonism towards Turkey is an after effect of centuries of Turkish domination of the Arab world. This only ended a century ago when Western nations defeated Turkey and broke up its empire. Many Arab states are reluctant to bring Syria back into the Arab League while there is still a large Iranian mercenary force in Syria. These same Arab states are also not pleased with the Iran backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon and Iranian meddling in Gaza and Yemen. Russia is succeeding in getting Turkey to back off but Iran is another matter.
February 4, 2019: Ukraine and Israel have become allies of sorts and Israel has been purchasing Ukrainian EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment that has been successfully used against the Russians by Ukrainian forces. A recent example of this is the Ukrainian Kolchuga passive sensor system. This system is built to passively (just by listening) detect a wide variety of Russian military equipment, including nearly all their air-defense systems that use active sensors (radars and control signals). Israel purchased a Ukrainian Kolchuga M system in 2018 and it was operational late that year. This made it easier to locate and monitor all Russian air defense systems in Syria, especially the mobile ones. That was a key element in the ability of the Israelis to destroy Syrian air defense systems which were used against Israeli attacks even after Israel warned Syria not to do so.
January 29, 2019: The Russian parliament is considering a new law that would legalize corruption in some cases. Specify those exceptions has proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Russia is the most corrupt of the major world economics and that explains a lot about the Russians don’t like about Russia.
January 28, 2019: During one week in January, the Russian Air Force lost three new or recently refurbished aircraft to accidents. Two of the losses were new Su-34 fighter-bombers while the third was a recently refurbished and updated Tu-22M3 heavy bomber. The Russian air force always had a higher peacetime loss rate than Western air forces but that situation has gotten worse since 2000 as Russia tried to rebuild its air forces. During the 1990s there was little money for maintaining or flying most combat aircraft. There were no new ones either. Russia was still building modern combat aircraft in the 1990s but these were all for export. In the last two decades, there has been more money, more maintenance and deliveries of new aircraft. But the pilots and unit commanders are still short of flight or command experience. There are exceptions, like pilots and commanders who have served in Syria since 2015. But these Syrian veterans were actually quite a few and often using dumb (unguided) bombs and missiles.
January 23, 2019: Russia confirmed that private Russian military contractors are in Sudan. The mercenary trainers are providing security instruction to the Sudanese military.
Russian and Israeli negotiators worked out an agreement that enables Israeli warplanes to enter Syria and avoid conflict with Russian warplanes or air defense systems. Russia also confirmed that the S-300 systems they sent to the Syrians last October are still not active and are under the control of Russian troops. These systems will apparently remain under Russian control because Russia does not want the Israelis demonstrating how they can defeat the S-300 system. That sort of thing discourages export sales. That has already happened with the mobile Pantsir system, which has been attacked and destroyed several times by the Israelis. Most of the airstrikes on Syria do not involve Israeli aircraft entering Syria. Instead, the Israeli warplanes launch guided missiles from over the Mediterranean or Lebanon. These attacks will continue to be kept completely secret with no advance warning to anyone. Israel also destroyed a lot of Syrian S-200 air defense system equipment and warned the Syrians that all of it will be destroyed unless the Syrians stop trying to use it against Israeli airstrikes.
In Russia, a meeting between the Turkish and Russian leader failed to work out an agreement on Turkish plans to send more troops into Syria and establish a 30 kilometers deep security zone on the Syrian side of the border. Russia backs a plan that has the security zone in the Kurdish controlled northeast managed by the Syrian (Assad) forces. Turkey sees this as useless because the Assads have a long history of supporting Turkish rebels or anti-Turkey Islamic terrorists by providing them with sanctuaries near the Turkish border. The Turks do not trust the Assads and that is unlikely to change considering the decades of bad relations between the Turks and Assads. The Russians will keep trying if only to maintain good relations with the Assads, which is the main reason the Russians are in Syria. It does not go unnoticed that the Russians get along with the Israelis and the Assads, as well as the Gulf Arab oil states.
The Turkish and Russian leaders did work out some details of how to handle the situation in northwest Syria, where over 30,000 Islamic terrorists are trapped near the Turkish border, along with over a million Syrian civilians. No details of this plan were released.
January 21, 2019: Israel released a video from one of its Skystriker loitering missiles destroying a Russian made Pantsir mobile antiaircraft system. Each Pantsir-S1 vehicle carries radar, two 30mm cannon, and twelve Tunguska missiles. The 90 kg (198 pound) Tunguska has a twenty kilometer range while the Pantsir-S1 radar has a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 8,400 meters (26,000 feet) high. The 30mm cannon is effective up to 3,200 meters (10,000 feet). The vehicles used to carry all the Pantsir-S1 can vary, but the most common one used weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three. This is the second time Israel has shown one of its loitering missiles destroying a Pantsir system, which was designed to defend against such low altitude, slow-moving threats.
January 20, 2019: In the African nation of Zimbabwe, Russian military advisers have been seen working with local security forces. This follows a recent announcement that Russia had invested in Zimbabwe’s diamond industry and had financed two other business deals worth some $270 million.
January 19, 2019: Russia and Syria are making plans to triple the size and capacity of the Damascus airport but cannot proceed as long as Iran has facilities in or near the airport and Israel keeps attacking the Iranian warehouses and other targets in the area. Israel refuses to halt these attacks unless Iran leaves and stops using the airport. Iran refuses to do this.