Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters Wednesday that Russia indeed has advisers in Syria training and assisting Assad government forces. Ms. Zakharova stated the Russian experts were helping deliver armaments to government troops on the front lines of Syria’s multiyear civil war.
The latest reports are that two Russian tank-landing craft recently docked in the port city of Tartus on the Mediterranean, near Latakia, offloading cargo. Syrian state TV has recently shown Russian armored vehicles on the ground in Latakia with Russian-speaking operators.
Multiple flights of Russia’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-124 Ruslan, NATO codenamed Condor, have been verified offloading troops and supplies in Syria. It is unknown how many Russian troops are in-country, but the number is believed to be small.
Initially, the Obama administration expressed support for Russia’s involvement in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. However, that stance seems to have shifted as the U.S. government is now concerned about possible accidental conflict with Russian troops. The White House is also concerned that Russia is preparing to grow its presence in the Middle East with a buildup in Syria.
The United States asked Greece and Bulgaria to prevent Russian planes from flying through their airspace in an apparent attempt to block Russian troop movements into the area. The Kremlin dismissed these attempts as “boorish” international behavior. So far, Russian forces seem to be concentrating on building a large forward operating base near Latakia on a Syrian airfield. Maintaining Russian access to its longtime Mediterranean port of Tartus in Syria could also be on the agenda.
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