PHOTO: Russian BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicle, spotted in western Syria last week
Supporting President Assad’s claims of steadfast Russian support, regime outlets are declaring the entry of Moscow’s military personnel into Syria.
The leading newspaper al-Watan asserted last week, “Russia Army Engages in Syria”. It said that Russia is building a new military base in Jablah, on the Mediterranean coast in Latakia Province and declared, “Many military advisors have reached Damascus.”
Al-Watan continued, “Russia has begun to supply Damascus, for the first time, with satellite imagery,” and concluded: “Long-awaited over the past five years, this decision will turn the military situation on its head.”
Trying to offset rebel advances and his admission of difficulty in finding men to fight, Assad said in an interview with Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV last week, “I have great trust in the Russians, and they proved throughout this crisis since four years ago that they are honest and transparent with us in relations and that they are principled.”
The Oryx Blog, a leading observer of weapons and manpower in the Syrian conflict, offers fragments of support for al-Watan’s claims. It has highlighted the presence of an advanced BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicle in video from Latakia, and on Saturday it posted snippets of Russian-language exchanges in a news report.
Opposition media have also said that Russian technical crews have been deployed in Latakia, amid a rebel advance into neighboring Hama Province.
However, regime outlets have also spread false stories of Moscow’s support. They said that Russia has provided S-300 anti-aircraft systems — an element in Iranian disinformation last weekend about the downing of an Israeli warplane (see separate feature).
Earlier this month, the regime media said six Russian S-31 fighter jets had been supplied in a sign of Moscow’s escalating support. The story was circulated widely before it was finally exposed as a falsehood.
In early August, the commander of Russia’s airborne troops, Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov, told journalists that Moscow was ready to send forces into Syria to assist the Assad regime: “Of course we will execute the decisions set forth by the country’s leadership, if there is a task at hand.”
A Kremlin spokesman gave a non-committal response, “No, this issue [sending of Russian troops to Syria] has never been discussed in any way. This issue is out of the agenda.”