Russia is aggressively building up military presence in war-torn Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition is fighting the Islamic State. Sources told Reuters that Russian troops are now directly engaged in combat operations to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It significantly increases the possibility of Russian troops encountering U.S. personnel in Syria.
Should the U.S. cooperate with Russia in Syria?
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have already escalated over the Ukraine crisis, and NATO is setting up military bases near Russian borders in eastern Europe. The encounter of Cold War foes on the battlefield in Syria could lead to a direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia, which in turn could escalate into World War 3.
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On Friday, Russia called on Washington to restart direct military-to-military cooperation to avert “unintended incidents” in Syria. But the U.S. cannot afford to do that. Russian forces are in Syria to support the regime of Assad. And the White House believes that Russia could attack the Syrian opposition groups fighting against Assad, using the battle against the ISIS as a cover. But the Western countries support Syrian opposition groups and want to oust Assad. So, cooperating with the Russian military in Syria is pretty close to admitting that the U.S. bid to oust Assad has failed miserably.
Russia setting up air base in Syria
Russia says it is sending troops and equipment to help Assad fight the Islamic State and teach Syrian soldiers how to use the Russian equipment. Moscow also has a naval base in Tartus on the coast of Syria, and Russian navy is conducting exercises in the eastern Mediterranean.
U.S. intelligence inputs suggest that the Russians were setting up an air base inside Syria that they could soon start using to fly combat missions. Washington also has evidence that Russia is planning to deploy Sukhoi Su-25 and MiG-31 in Latakia in coming weeks.
According to Bloomberg, President Barack Obama has asked the national security officials to come up with a plan as early as next week on how to respond to the growing Russian military buildup in the city of Latakia. The State Department has already asked Greece and Bulgaria to deny overflight permissions to Russian transport planes flying to Syria.