As the Russian drawdown from Syria continues, more information continues to emerge about the forces Moscow had committed to shoring up the Assad regime. One telling aspect is how involved Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces were in the deployment. They were involved in two of their three core missions — reconnaissance and special security missions — but not the third, direct combat operations. The implication is that from the outset of the deployment, Moscow planned to minimize its exposure in this messy and bloody war.

As one would expect, there had been Russian special operations forces in Syria even before the formal Russian intervention in September 2015, largely to provide training for their Syrian counterparts and enhanced security for the Russian embassy and other facilities. The Zaslon force of the Foreign Intelligence Service, for example, deployedsome of its men in their usual role of reinforcing regular embassy security.

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