Russian President Vladimir Putin made the decision to travel to Syria in January 2020 based on reports from a number of services, including the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. This was announced by Russian Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu in an interview for Yevgeny Poddubny's documentary "No Right for a Mistake. A Christmas Visit to Damascus" on the Rossiya-1 TV channel.
"The decision was made by the president himself, of course, based on the reports of various services, and primarily the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces," Shoigu said. According to him, at that time, the time of the completion of the next stage of the operation in Syria was approaching, hence the time of summing up the results. The Defense Minister specified that by then the main force phase was over, and it was necessary to move on to the next phase - the restoration of peaceful life.
"After all, to have so many refugees in different countries, including within the country... Of course, it was the work of both the military and the restoration of the economy, of life, they required summing up and setting tasks for the next phase," the head of the Defense Ministry said. "It had to be done, first of all, quite visibly and understandably. For the population of Syria, for the leadership of Syria and of course for the rest of the world, because it was not clear to everyone where we were," Shoigu added.
According to Shoigu, a Hollywood thriller and a training film for special services could be made about how the president's visit to Syria was prepared. "On the one hand, it could be a good manual for such work of all the services without exception, but on the other hand it would be a thriller," said Shoigu.
How were the preparations
Preparations for Putin's visit to Syria began long before the trip, a total assessment of possible threats was carried out. "There was such a complete, total, in-depth assessment of all threats. We had to do a lot, and at the same time not to arouse everyone's interest: what are they doing here? What are they doing here?" said the head of the Defense Ministry.
"We started such work long before that on escorting, for example, some transports (military transport aircraft - TASS), escorting by helicopters. Gradually accustomed to the fact that it will be so," he continued.
For his part, Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, said that all possible measures had been taken to eliminate information leaks. "Because this is the East, and all people strive, what information they received, the sooner the better to convey to their neighbors or to others. Any information - in 10 minutes half of Syria will know about it, with everything on cell phones is prepared and so on," he explained. According to Gerasimov, the best way to avoid such leaks is simply not to bring information to anyone. "That's how we had to work in this mode," he added.
According to Admiral Igor Kostyukov, head of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces - Deputy Chief of the General Staff, many structures were involved in the operation to secure Putin's visit "under a legend." "Indeed, this is a responsibility that all the personnel involved in this operation imbued with. We had no right to make a mistake, not to mention a mistake, to the slightest failure," said Kostyukov.
He stressed that the circle of those who knew the details of the operation was extremely narrow. "Fragmentarily, I will say in an intelligence manner, other structures were involved in planning of this event and providing it," said Kostyukov. According to him, deep knowledge of the situation both in Syria and specifically in Damascus helped in organizing the work. Kostyukov said it was a really complicated operation.
"There were a lot of loose ends. But I want to say that there were many other structures that were also responsible and invested in this work. Somehow everything was consolidated in one place here, but this work was carried out by the FPS and other structures, and our Syrian partners and colleagues," the admiral listed.
Tensions were rising
Soldiers and specialists from other security agencies in Russia and Syria were able to "exhale" only when Putin's plane, which flew out of Damascus, left the anti-aircraft defense (AAD) zone, Kostyukov noted. "We exhaled when the plane with the president set a course for Istanbul (the head of state went straight from Damascus to Istanbul - TASS) and exited the air defense zone," Kostyukov said.
According to Shoigu, the tension among those who provided the visit was increasing by the minute. "After all, information goes around, and knowing how it goes around and the speed with which it all goes around, you had to understand that someone had already called someone and they were frantically hustling and trying to get something done. And they cannot be allowed to have time to do anything," the head of the Defense Ministry explained.
According to the Chief of the General Staff, the entire operation was carried out secretly. Only a few people knew all the details of the operation. The trip was prepared under the cover of a visit of the Defense Minister.
According to the TV channel, dozens of false and real routes were mapped. The preparations were completed when board number one had already taken off. And even the pilots of the Russian Air Force fighters escorting the president's plane did not know who was on board. Helicopter teams were secretly thrown into Damascus, a reconnaissance balloon was set up in the city center, unmanned aerial vehicles operated in the skies over Damascus, special communications, electronic warfare systems were deployed as the convoy moved.
About the visit
Putin's visit to Damascus took place on January 7, 2020. The Russian head of state, together with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, visited the command post of the Russian group in Syria, located in Damascus, and the Umayyad Mosque, also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus. It is one of the largest and oldest mosques in the world. The Russian president also visited St. Mary's Cathedral with al-Assad.
The visit took place against the background of the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC, an elite Iranian military unit) special forces al-Quds. He was killed on the night of January 3, 2020, in a US missile strike near Baghdad airport. In response, Tehran launched a missile strike on the night of January 8 against two facilities in Iraq used by the US military - the Ayn al Asad base and the airport of the city of Erbil. The Iranian leadership has repeatedly stated that it will definitely avenge the assassination of Soleimani.
Analysts stressed at the time that Putin was headed to the Middle East at when the region was on the brink of a major war following the US actions . Imad Rizk, director of the Istisharia Center for Strategic Studies in Beirut, told TASS that with his visit to Damascus, Putin testified to Moscow's allies and friends that Russia remains committed to its course of complete destruction of terrorism on Syrian ground and confirmed the firmness of its position.
GSV "Russia - Islamic World"
Photo: official website of President of RF
Based on materials TASS