By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
In early October 2014, the Republican Guard was seen using a vehicle not believed to be in Syrian service for the first time, in an attempt to clear the rebel stronghold of Jobar, Damascus.
The UR-77 'Meteorit', once designed to breach minefields with its two mine-clearing line charges to make way for assaulting infantry and armour saw heavy use in Chechnya, blowing whole houses and apartments suspected to house Chechen rebels away. It also saw use in Angola, which acquired a limited number for its fight against UNITA.
As the vehicle wasn't part of the standard Soviet client state vehicle park, it was never believed to have been exported to any nation but Angola. It is certain that the UR-77 has never been sighted in the now three-and-a-half year long war. This while the Republican Guard was desperately in need for such a vehicle as they had to use T-72AV tanks and 2S3 self-propelled howitzers to engage housing believed to be harbouring rebels, leading to huge and unnecessary losses of valuable T-72AVs.
Much more likely is that the UR-77s and associated munitions were sold to Syria by either Russia or (less likely) Belarus, subsequently loaded onto an Il-76 and flown to Mezze. As the UR-77 was most likely never operated by Syria, it is possible foreign personnel are in fact manning the UR-77s currently used in Jobar.
In a video provided by Wassim Issa, the operator of the UR-77 is blurred. This while all the other faces of the fighters around him remain perfectly visible. One shot of the operator gives a part of his face away, but as soon as the camera zooms in, it immediately gets blurred.
Although the unblurred shot and footage later on shows the operator's caucasian look, this doesn't tell us much about the origin of the operator. He is later seen in a direct conversation with a soldier of the Republican Guard, and despite the heavy usage of hand signals, the soldiers seem to understand him perfectly.
Although the Assad regime is deprived of hard currency, the capabilities that come with the UR-77 outweighs the costs. The mine-clearing line charges of the UR-77 are a definite improvement over the several types of IRAMs (also known as Volcanoes) and Iranian made Falagh (or Falaq) rockets in use with Pro-Assadist forces such as the National Defence Force (NDF) and Hizbullah. Although few UR-77s are believed to have been acquired, they will likely be a common sight in Pro-Assadists's offensives around Damascus from now on.