(JNS.org) Russia has confirmed that it has deployed its military forces in Syria, in the first such official confirmation from Russia after weeks of reports that Moscow had been growing its forces there.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russia Foreign Ministry, confirmed to Reuters that “experts” were assisting with Russia arms deliveries to Syria, which Moscow says are for “combating terrorism.”
Additionally, a Lebanese source familiar with the situation in Syria told Reuters that the Russians “are taking part in military operations. It is more than an advisory role.”
Russia has been a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has consistently complicated efforts by Western powers to remove Assad from power and forge a diplomatic solution to the long-running Syrian civil war. Over the last several months, Syrian government forces have had a number of major setbacks in their fight against rebel forces, including the Islamic State terror group. Russia also operates a major naval base in Latakia, Syria.
Last weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and warned him that Russia’s actions could “further escalate the conflict” and “risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL (Islamic State) Coalition operating in Syria.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. moved to block the Russia military buildup in Syria by asking Greece and Bulgaria to close their airspace to Russia military transport planes over fears of the Russian buildup, the New York Times reported.