WHOSE DRONES ATTACKED RUSSIAN BASES IN SYRIA?
Nobody claimed the responsibility for the attacks. This likely excludes jihadist groups as potential perpetrators. Moreover, the level of sophistication of the drones and the capabilities needed to carry out the attack demonstrate know-how that the Islamic State and other jihadist formations in Syria do not have. In the past ISIS finalized several strikes using commercial quadri-copters different from the drones used on this occasion, which were not assembled starting from kits available on the internet; IS's drones never travelled for more than 2 km before, and never had geopositioning and wind-control devices on them. In fact, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the UAVs were of such sophistication that they could have been built only with the assistance of “a country with high technological potential on providing satellite navigation and distant control of firing.”
The candidates in the region are two: Turkey and Iran. Although both are cooperating with Russia to enforce a cease-fire agreement in Syria, both also have an interest in augmenting Russia’s military fatigue. Jacob Shapiro reports that on January 9, the Foreign Ministry of Turkey protested over Syrian military operations conducted in one of the de-escalation zones against Turkish-backed anti-Assad rebels. The drills would have been carried out with Russia’s and Iran’s blessing, causing Turkish resentment and the loss of influence in Syria. It is also true that notwithstanding the temporary rapprochement, Turkey sees Russia as a long term strategic adversary; this would justify a strategy of attrition against Russian military consolidation in the area. Finally, it is worth to mention that the drones took off from the surroundings of Muazzar, controlled by pro-Turkish rebels.
Then, there is Iran. In a meeting at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington D.C., Mark Katz and Neda Bolourchi reiterated the divergences of Russian and Iranian interests over Syria. Iran’s ideal scenario would see a weak Assad relying on the militias of the Islamic Republic to maintain order in Syria. Accordingly, Iran could try to sabotage Russian military engagement to emerge as Assad’s most trustworthy and committed ally. The asymmetric nature of the attack and the use of drones would coincide with Iran’s military doctrine and force structure.
Russian and Syrian security services are trying to identify those responsible for the attack. However, as Maxim Suchkov of the Russian International Affairs Council said in an interview with the Washington Post, “it is still a mystery.”