In the first public statement confirming his country’s military involvement in Syria’s civil war against the Islamic state, Russian President Vladmir Putin has said his country is providing significant logistical support and training to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. He has denied reports that Russia has deployed combat troops to fight alongside the Syrians, but hinted that this might be an option in the future.
Putin said to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency at an economic forum in Vladivostok, “To say we’re ready to do this today – so far it’s premature to talk about this. But we are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons.”
Russia is known as one of the largest military suppliers to the Syrian government and has supported Assad in the Global arena, using its UN Security Council veto to support him during a war that has claimed over 250,000 lives, creating a wave of refugees fleeing the country. Russia has also delayed an international investigation into claims that Assad has used chemical weapons.
His announcement comes after Syrian television showed videos of troops shouting to each other in Russian. There was also a video of an advanced Russian-built BTR-82a armored personnel carrier fighting Syrian rebels alongside Assad’s troops in Latakia, Syria’s principal port city.
The New York Times reported that Russia has recent transported prefabricated housing units for up to 1,000 of people to a Syrian airfield and the delivery of a portable air traffic control station, also near Latakia. The report also mentioned military overflight requests Russia has file with neighboring countries through September. This would seem to indicate Russia’s intention to bring in significant military aid in the form of personnel or materiel, but it might also presage setting up for possible airstrikes.
There is a Russian naval base at the Syrian port city Tartus and a social media and a shipping blog reported photos of a Russian naval vessel was cruising through the Bosphorus strait carrying military equipment.
In addition, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, tweeted photos of what they claimed are Russian planes and drones flying over Idlib.
Putin outlined his options to the Russian news service. “We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism,” Putin said. “To this end, we hold consultations with our American partners – I have personally spoken on the issue with US President Obama.”
The response of the US government might not be as accepting as Putin imagines. The State Department made a statement for the Secretary of State John Kerry, after he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about this development.
“The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL (ISIS) coalition operating in Syria.”
The US prefers to pursue a political solution supporting the moderate opponents to Assad’s regime. The US fears that military intervention from Russia would adversely affect the moderate Syrian groups who are battling both the Islamic State (ISIS) and the government troops Russia supports. In their support for Assad, Russia opposes the moderate groups the US favors, referring to them as terrorists.