Scores of Russian military personnel are set to arrive in Syria in the coming days and weeks, according to reports in the Israeli media.
Israeli news site Ynet News cited Western diplomats Monday as saying that thousands of Russian personnel - including advisors, instructors, logisticians, technicians, members of the aerial protection division, and the pilots who will operate the aircraft - are set to touch down in the warn-torn country in the coming weeks.
Ynet News also reports that a Russian “expeditionary force” has already arrived in Syria to set up camp at a government airbase near the country’s capital of Damascus to lead an offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and rebel-aligned targets.
The exact makeup of the expeditionary force is reportedly unknown - but past reports have said that Moscow has been in talks to sell a package of MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ combat aircraft, and Yak-130 ‘Mitten’ advanced jet trainer/strike aircraft, to the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Dismissing the Ynet News report, a Russian military representative told Russia Today on Tuesday: “There has been no redeployment of Russian combat aircraft to the Syrian Arab Republic. The Russian Air Force is at its permanent bases and carrying out normal troop training and combat duty.”
According to the Daily Beast senior editor and author of ‘ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror’ Michael Weiss, however, several sources have said that the Pentagon is being “unusually cagey about Russia’s reinvigorated role in Syria.”
A former U.S. military officer told the Daily Beast writer and CNN contributor: “I’m being told things like, ‘We really can’t talk about this.’ That indicates to me that there’s some truth to these allegations.”
Some of the claims of increased Russian involvement are, as Weiss states, “verifiable”.
On August 20, the Russian navy’s Alligator class landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov passed through Istanbul. The Nikolay Filchenkov, which was photographed by the Bosphorus Naval News, appeared to be carrying trucks and armoured vehicles purportedly destined for Syria.
Subsequent images have been released appearing to show seemingly brand new BTR-82A infantry combat vehicles - a variant that has never before been supplied to the Syrian military, according to the BBC - being operated by the Syrian army in action or on exercises.
Joseph Dempsey, a research analyst at the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, told the BBC that the images, “if authentic, provide strong evidence of the BTR-82A and Tigre [military utility vehicles] being in Syria.”
Although Russia did not respond to the “Arab Spring” with the same enthusiasm of many Western governments, it is clear that Putin’s regime is as every bit concerned by the rise of the murderous fanaticism espoused by ISIS.
Meanwhile, at least 10 people have been killed and dozens wounded when a car bomb exploded in the Syrian coastal city, and Assad government stronghold, of Latakia Wednesday.
According to Reuters, Latakia has so far been largely spared the violence that has engulfed Syria during more than four years of civil war, resulting in the death of approximately a quarter of a million people.
Referring to Syrian state television broadcasts, Reuters reports that the governor of Latakia, Ibrahim Khader al Salem, said that terrorists sought to strike at the heart of government-held safe areas that have become a haven for tens of thousands of refugees in an attempt to sow “destruction and fear”.
At least two other bomb plots involving explosive-laden cars have been foiled in the city in recent days, it has been reported.
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