Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov outlined Moscow’s stance on Syria at a briefing for foreign military attaches on Wednesday, December 5th, 2018, emphasizing that the US military presence there is a major obstacle in the war on terror. Gerasimov doubted the success of combat operations against the IS militants conducted by the US-led coalition and its allied Kurdish units along the eastern bank of the Euphrates River. According to him, IS sleeper cells have intensified their activity in this area and the group’s influence there has been growing. Over the past six months, the coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces, largely consisting of Kurds, have been unable to eliminate IS units near Hajin. He noted that Damascus's forces could have fulfilled this task within one or two weeks.
Russian International Affairs Council expert Kirill Semenov believes that Gerasimov has exaggerated the successes of Assad's army and its allies, given that IS enclaves are still prevalent in areas controlled by Damascus. "It’s wrong to accuse the US and the Kurds that they haven't been able to be victorious over the IS," Semenov told the paper. However, he said it was unclear why the operation along the eastern side of the Euphrates has been protracted.
Meanwhile, Moscow is convinced that Washington’s major goal is not to combat the IS terror group, but to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria, which will be independent from the central authorities. "They are forming the government of the so-called democratic federation of northern Syria," Gerasimov said.