Two things are driving the Russia leadership, and, therefore, Russian military deployments.
Greed and an insatiable desire to dominate.
Russia is too busy exporting their Pantsir S1/SA-22 systems to have the ability to protect their overcommitted needs in Syria, Ukraine, the Baltics, and everyplace else that needs protection in Russia and around the world. Russia is too busy exporting these systems, they are scraping the bottom of the barrel to protect most of their own military, and therefore cannot provide sufficient systems to also protect their allies who are in desperate need.
They are struggling to maintain industry output, we know this from a myriad of reports. The S-400 system deployed to Latakia was unusual as instead of brand new launchers with BAZ-6909 tractors as sold to China, they overhauled and rebuilt Cold War era MAZ-543 8×8 launcher vehicles and refitted them to carry and shoot S-400 missiles. You do not do that unless you cannot get sufficient production quantities of the new item.
How do we know this?
a) they have committed a good number of their fleet of 96K6 Pantsir S1/SA-22 to Donbass, Crimea, Kaliningrad and along the Baltic States’ borders. They may be running short on systems, personnel and warstock to deploy any more anywhere else;
b) they may not be happy with Assad and might be planning to bail;
c) they might be afraid of the West baiting their systems in Syria and recording their emissions to develop jamming techniques
Notice that third option? We called and told the Russians what we were doing and when. They did not turn on their systems, they knew we would record their emissions, identify specific signatures, identify the waveforms, and develop countermeasures. This is also more evidence that they did not shoot down our Tomahawks with fighter planes, nor did they jam them with electronic warfare. Their training opportunity, to watch our missiles go by, was not taken to protect their priceless electronic signatures, known as TECHINT.
If you consider factor b, it is most likely a contributory factor to factor a.
Plus this, from an unsubmitted article shared by the author. I kept peppering him with questions. We both know the Russians have some serious, serious problems. I didn’t know they were this bad, however.
The Chinese are buying the S-400 to get the 400 km range high altitude A2/AD capability. They do not care about short range defence.
Russian doctrine for operating the S-400 is to colocate with the S-400 battery short range SAM and SPAAG systems specifically optimised for defeat of cruise missiles, smart bombs and anti-radiation missiles – the short range system protects the A2/AD battery from cruise missile and air attack.
IADS strategy – A2/AD supported by Counter-PGM:
Long Range A2/AD:
Short Range Counter-PGM:
Also the new S-350 Vityaz system now in development is intended to do this job.
What the Russians have done in Syria is to colocate at Latakia the S-400/SA-21 and the 96K6 Pantsir S1/SA-22. The intent of the former is to deny high and medium altitude airspace over most of Western Syria and Southern Turkey. The intent of the latter is to protect the former from the kind of attack the US executed last week. In terms of these two objectives, the deployment works as intended.
To protect the multiple airbases the Syrians operate from Tomahawk attacks the Russians would have to deploy a battery of the 96K6 Pantsir S1/SA-22 comprising 4-6 networked SPAAGM vehicles, and possibly a supporting mast mounted low altitude search radar, at each and every Syrian airfield to be defended.
In other words, in a desperate attempt to get money from arms sales, they are inadvertently hobbling their top of the line deployments. Syria is supposed to be their showcase for their latest and greatest weapons. They need to showcase their top air defense systems, but they are overcommitted. They are short on systems. Hard Ruble generating equipment sales take priority over deployments.
That is a sad statement. Russia can’t even protect their premier full-time arms show in Syria properly, they are overcommitted elsewhere. They are overcommitted because the systems they need are being sold to earn hard currency.
The sanctions are working.