The United States reiterated its warning to Russia that its military buildup in Syria could escalate further the bloody conflict in the war-torn country.
The Russian forces started participating in the military of operations of the Syrian government, according to Reuters based on information from sources familiar with the political and military situation there. The sources said the number of Russian forces involved was still small.
The Lebanese sourced told Reuters, “The Russians are no longer just advisors. The Russians have decided to join the war against terrorism.” According to them, the Russia established two bases in Syria—one near the coast and one further inland, which would serve as their operations base.
“They have started in small numbers, but the bigger force did not yet take part. There are numbers of Russians taking part in Syria but they did not yet join the fight against terrorism strongly,” according to the Lebanese sources.
On the other hand, U.S. officials said Russia sent two tank landing ships and additional cargo planes to Syria. They also confirmed that the presence of a small number of naval infantry forces in the war-torn country. According to them, Russia’s intention in Syria was unclear.
Three Russian Antonov An-124 “Condor” planes offloading building supplies and air traffic control equipment were also spotted by U.S. satellites. Those planes flew across the Caspian Sea, then crossed Iran and Iraq into Syria.
The Russian planes were supposed to fly across Bulgaria, Greece, and the Mediterranean Sea. However, Russia was forced to divert the flight path after the Bulgarian and Greek governments denied its request to fly over their territories.
Russia confirms military build up, arms supply for Syria
The United States is closely monitoring the activities of the Russian military in Syria and expressed concern over the past several days. Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the military buildup.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova stated that the Russian military experts in Syria are instructing Syrians on how to use the systems provided to them. He emphasized that Russia “has long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria in accordance with bilateral contracts.”
Zakharova did not rule out the possibility for Russian forces to conduct additional actions to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. She said, “If there is a need from our side for additional measures to increase support for the anti-terrorist fight, this question will be reviewed in an appropriate way.”
Meanwhile, a Syrian official admitted that Russian experts are always present, and their presence increased since last year.
Russian military activities could lead to greater violence in Syria
For the second time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and reiterated his concern regarding the potential escalation of the civil war in Syria due to Russia’s military activity in the country.
According to John Kirby, the spokesman for the U.S. State Department said, “In a call to Lavrov Wednesday, Kerry “reiterated our concern about these reports of Russian military activities, or buildup if you will, in Syria and made very clear our view that, if true and borne out, could lead to greater violence and even more instability in Syria.”
Analysts’ comments on Syrian crisis
Some analysts monitoring the Syrian crisis commented that Russia’s continued military intervention increases the possibility of miscalculation given the variety of forces operating inside the country.
Retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton said, “It not only would cause potential conflicts in the sky between (U.S.-led) coalition air forces going after ISIS targets that are in the area, but it would also risk a confrontation between Russian forces and the coalition forces.”
On the other hand, Retired Colonel and Canadian military strategist, George Petrolekas told CBC News, “It is difficult to imagine how a civil war that has lasted four years, and by most accounts killed 300,000 people and created millions of refugees could become any more expansive in its effect. Paradoxically, if the increased Russian presence is true, it may, in fact, hasten an end to the conflict.”