Mission creep

I’m in Moscow this week, and seeing that my hotel had some free copies of the newspaper Kommersant lying around, I picked one up to see what was in the news. The number one story was yesterday’s meeting in Sochi between the Russian and Turkish presidents. Conveniently, Kommersant included the full text of the agreement. This included the following points:

• ‘Both sides confirm their commitment to preserving Syria’s political unity and territorial integrity.’
• ‘They underline their determination to fight terrorism in all its forms.’
• ‘Starting at 1200 hrs on 23 October 2019, units of the Russian military police and the Syria border service will be deployed to the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border beyond the limits of Operation Peace Spring. They will assist the extraction of units and weapons of the YPG (i.e. Kurdish forces) to 30 km from the Syrian-Turkish border , which must be completed within 150 hours from 1200 hrs, 23 October 2019. From that moment, joint Russian-Turkish patrols will commence up to a depth of 10 km from the border.’

The Russian government will no doubt portray this as proof of the advantages of ‘jaw-jaw over war-war.’ Through diplomacy, they have ensured that the Turkish military offensive will come to an end, and that there will be no humanitarian disaster of the type which so many in the Western press had argued would be the likely result of Turkey’s actions. They have also gotten the Turks to confirm Syria’s ‘political unity and territorial integrity, and found a way of bringing the Syrian-Turkish border back under Syrian control. These can all be seen as significant achievements.

But they come at a price. The Russian military mission in Syria at first had clear goals: destroy terrorist groups and prevent the collapse of the existing regime. These goals have the advantage that one can easily determine when they’re achieved. But now Russia has taken on a new and completely open-ended commitment – guarding the Syrian border. How will we know when its purpose is achieved? We won’t.

There’s a phrase for this sort of thing – mission creep. It’s not very desirable. In the past I’ve suggested that the Russians might have a better understanding than their American rivals of the first principle of war – selection and maintenance of the aim. Perhaps I was wrong. Russia, it seems, is just as prone to mission creep as anyone else. It looks like the Russians might well be stuck in Syria for a very long time to come.

11 thoughts on “Mission creep”

  1. First & foremost, the mission of securing Syrian borders will be performed by Syrian forces. Russia will continue training, supplying, & advising.

    That’s a feasible mission.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If they committed to fighting some military force (Turkey or the YPG), that would’ve been a mission creep indeed. But this one so far seems more like a peace-keeping mission.

    Although it certainly is possible that the YPG (or some such) will resort to guerrilla tactics. Well, it remains to be seen…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mission creep is not inherently a bad thing though. While the Russians do add new properties to the Syrian mission, they are also clearing and closing previous commitments. Military police patrols newly cleared territories for a few months then quietly disappears, replaced by Syrians properly, spikes in bombing activity are always followed by downtimes and rotations etc.

    That Russians are stuck in Syria for a very long time was completely obvious at least since Syria signed leasing of Tartus port, and pretty clear even before that. That, too, is not a bad thing on its own.

    I think you are making an understandable mistake of reading too deep into it, as a commitment to guard Syrian border, rather than just reading a patrol as a patrol. They are not guarding the border against the Turks, they are not tasked to catch smugglers and do customs like border guard does. They are there on the understanding that tricolor on their cars is enough to deter fighting from all sides, but they are not expected to fight themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “But now Russia has taken on a new and completely open-ended commitment – guarding the Syrian border. How will we know when its purpose is achieved? We won’t.”

    I say! You’re a good soldier and a true servant of the Queen, Professor! A true stalwart. That will show dem Russkis, that even if you have to travel to the den of the Bear, you won’t be swayed by the wiley ways. Always look on the dark side of (the adversary’s) life.


    1. try to read this statement without your standard prejudice.

      Otherwise to this nitwit, no doubt, it feels that Russia at this point in time seems the the paragon of what can be achieved by diplomacy.


  5. Very much related to this discussion:


    On par with this piece from 2015:


    One senses that Syria might’ve come up during Putin’s recent high level talks in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. I’m also sensing that he might’ve convinced these two countries and some others that Assad is (reasonably speaking) the best possible scenario for Syria – inclusive of the need for states to aid it.


  6. As with some above, I see this as more of a continuation of the overall mission which would seem to be to finalise the process of securing the governments rule of all of Syria.

    The new deal with Turkey would seem to be a temporary mission while the Syrian government and the Kurds talk and to prevent the US from undermining it as they wont be able to bomb the area or otherwise push the Syrian army back away from the border given the presence of Russian personel.


  7. paul – the ultimate goal is to have syrian and turkish people guarding the syria-turkish border… that is the goal… it can’t happen overnight at this point, thus russias involvement.. i agree with rkka and patrick armstrong up above.. thanks..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In reverse chronological order, a consistent accuracy from 2015 to the present:



    It wouldn’t surprise that Syria came up in discussions between Putin and the Saudi and UAE leaders last week. It would also not surprise if some countries (perhaps including Saudi Arabia and the UAE) are now accepting (unofficially or otherwise) that Assad is the reasonably best choice and that it’s in the best interests of some states to aid Syria.


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