As the world nervously follows the news of military personnel from Russia continuing to arrive in Syria, both Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and unnamed Lebanese sources are confirming that Russia troops are already on the ground and in the process of constructing what is speculated to be an air base near the coastal town of Latakia.
In an earlier report today on Yahoo News, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told media members that Russian forces have been steadily entering Syria over the past several days, though the scope of the military presence remains limited to a “force that includes advisers, a security team and preparations for operating planes and combat helicopters.” Israel has a complicated position with respect to the Syrian conflict and more military forces from Russia. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been a long-time enemy of the Israeli state, although the specter of an Islamic State regime taking Assad’s place is viewed an an even less favorable outcome.
Three Lebanese sources, who spoke with Reuters on the condition of remaining anonymous, confirmed and expanded on the reports of Russian forces in Syria. While stating that the combat role of troops from Russia in Syria is still relatively small, the sources alluded to a “bigger force” that may be yet to emerge.
Facing vocal criticism from international leaders, including multiple phone calls from Secretary of State John Kerry to the Russian Foreign Minister and a statement from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Kremlin has acknowledged a military presence in Syria. However, according to Voice of America, Russia is disputing the notion of combat troops in Syria, suggesting that the current personnel is limited to “military advisers” who are simply working to protect and “maintain equipment sent from Russia.”
The rationale behind Russia’s decision to initiate a more visible military role in Syria may be multi-faceted. While the Kremlin has formally stated that their purpose in the Middle East is to combat ISIS and extremist elements in the region in support of their international partners, analysts suggest that there are likely other motives for Russia’s moves into Syria. In a report by NBC, Alexander Golts, a Russian-based independent military expert, suggested that Russia’s foray into the Syrian conflict might “allow Russia to leave the global isolation it has found itself in after Ukraine.”
Following four years of protracted fighting in the region that has killed an estimated quarter of a million Syrians, while displacing nearly half of the country’s population from their homes, it remains unclear whether the heightened involvement of Russia in Syria will help stabilize the region or simply exacerbate the existing violence.
[Image Credit: Salah Malkawi / Getty Images News]