Russia was accused of carrying out attacks in northern Syria on Sunday, even as it faced a crisis at home in the wake of the Wagner uprising, according to reports on social media and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and pro-Iranian website Al-Mayadeen.
Russia carried out airstrikes in Idlib in northern Syria, SOHR claimed, adding that upto 40 people were killed and or wounded.
“The death toll from the Russian airstrikes today on the area rose to 11; nine [killed] on the outskirts of the city of Jisr al-Shughour (6 civilians and 3 military), and 2 on the outskirts of Idlib, a soldier from the ‘Turkistani Islamic Party’ and a civilian,” the SOHR report said. “About 30 others were injured in Jisr al-Shughour, some of them in critical condition, which suggests that the number of dead and martyrs may rise.” The report claimed this was the first “massacre” by Russian airstrikes this year.
The strike came as Russia was suffering internal chaos, that occured over the weekend, in which mercenary units left the frontline to march on Moscow. Those units, linked to Wagner, have now stood down and it appears that they will return to the front and some of their leaders will be exiled in Belarus.
Russia appeared weak amidst the internal chaos
Russia appeared weak as it faced internal chaos. This could be a reason for these new rounds of airstrikes.
Russia has backed the Syrian regime since the beginning of the Syrian civil war and in 2015 Russia intervened in Syria with its air force and special forces.
Russia has air force units at Khmeimim air base in Latakia and also a naval facility at Tartus. Thus, Russia has numerous warplanes near Idlib.
Idlib is occupied by a number of Syrian groups, many of them linked to extremist group Tahrir al-Sham (HTS.) Turkey also has outposts in Idlib and in Afrin, which Turkey invaded in 2018.
Ankara doesn’t openly back HTS, but it appears to coexist with the group in Idlib. Idlib is also home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled other parts of Syria. As such it is crowded and airstrikes often harm civilians.
Desire to have the US leave Syria
Russia, Turkey, and Iran work together on Syrian issues via the Astana process. That process is supposed to guarantee deconfliction. The US, which backs the Syrian Democratic Forces in eastern Syria, is not included in that process and Russia, Iran and Turkey all want US forces to leave Syria.
In recent weeks, the US has sent F-22s to the Middle East because of Russia’s increasingly provocative actions using its aircraft to fly over US forces in eastern Syria.
The US accused the Russian aircraft of being armed. Now Russia appears to have switched attention to bombing Idlib. This likely sends a message to HTS and other Syrian groups not to try to take advantage of chaos in Russia to strike at the Syrian regime or Russian forces in Syria.
Al-Mayadeen media, which tends to be pro-Syria regime also mentioned that “Russian warplanes targeted the headquarters of armed groups with two raids on the outskirts of the city of Jisr Al-Shughur in the northwestern countryside of Idlib. In the details, our correspondent said that Russian air strikes also targeted the headquarters of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and its allies in the Al-Fateh Al-Mubin operations room in the city of Ariha, south of Idlib.”
According to this report, there were 25 air strikes in the area of Idlib. The White Helmets Civil Defense groups said on Twitter that they had documented “the first moments of the response to Russian airstrikes that targeted a vegetable and fruit market on the outskirts of Jisr al-Shughour, west of Idlib, today, killing 9 civilians and injuring 30.” This area was also impacted by the February earthquake in Turkey which killed thousands of Syrians.