Most observers of the civil war in Syria are well aware of the military assistance offered by the government of Vladimir Putin to long-time Russian/Soviet ally Bashar al-Assad, with Russia’s billion dollar arms-contracts sustaining both the Damascus regime abroad and the defence industry at home. Since at least 2012 weapons and equipment exported via Rosoboronexport, the state-sanctioned arms agency, have sustained the embattled Syrian dictatorship both directly and through various intermediaries, notably Iran. Without the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic – and the never-ending flow of “volunteers” from the military wing of Hezbollah – Assad’s government would have succumbed to its diverse enemies months or even years ago.
The excellent Oryx Blog has charted the waxing and waning of the internecine conflict in Syria for the last three years, frequently highlighting the appearance of new, foreign-supplied weapons and equipment in the hands of loyalist or opposition forces. Now it has drawn attention to recent radio traffic featuring Russian-speaking combatants participating in the fighting near the crucial port-city of Latakia (also, Lattakia or اللَاذِقِيَّة al-Lādhiqīyah).
“The regime’s offensive in the Lattakia Governorate continues to reveal previously unknown details about Russia’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Apart from the sighting of recently delivered Russian BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), new evidence now confirms Russian military personnel has a key role in leading the offensive on the ground.
Sound fragments heard in a news report from the Media Wing of the National Defence Force (NDF) covering the offensive in Lattakia, which was also the first to reveal the presence of BTR-82As in Syria, confirm earlier accounts of Russian military personnel being sent to Lattakia in support of the ongoing regime operations in this area. Together with the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) and the recently arrived Republican Guard, the NDF launched a new offensive aimed at recapturing territory previously lost to the rebels in North-Eastern Lattakia. If it proves successful, the offensive will greatly enhance the regime’s control over its currently endangered heartland, and provide a serious blow to rebel forces.
Although only little of the conversation is heard, it appears to be directed at the crew of the BTR-82A, implicating the vehicle was in fact operated by Russian military personnel. However, when the subject of Russian personnel being sent to Syria was raised on the 4th of August to Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, following comments made by the head of Russia’s Airborne Troops, he reportedly denied requests of such nature had been made by the Syrian regime.”
While there could be other reasons for Russian-speaking individuals serving with the Syrian government forces, notably the use of Moscow-sanctioned military contractors or mercenaries, the possibility remains that these were representatives of the Russian military, specifically associated with the deployment of assembly-line fresh BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers by the loyalist Syrian Arab Army. If the claims are true it illustrates a further disastrous development in the conflict, one likely to prolong the civil war rather than end it. As long as Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle can rely on outside support they will continue to refuse any chance of a negotiated settlement, even with the most flexible of their enemies.
Meanwhile Bellingcat has an investigation into the one hundred plus Americans fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq that is well worth a read.