Russian officials denied reports that the government placed Russian soldiers in Syria and deployed fighter jets. Reports of Russian activity in the war-torn country swarmed the internet this week.
“There has been no redeployment of Russian combat aircraft to the Syrian Arab Republic,” a source told Russia Today. “The Russian Air Force is at its permanent bases and carrying out normal troop training and combat duty,” the source added.
However, The Telegraph reported that Syrian TV showed Russian troops next to President Bashar al-Assad’s troops. On social media, accounts associated with radical Islamic group Jabhat al-Nusra published pictures of alleged Russian jets in the Syrian sky.
“The Russians have been there a long time,” an anonymous source told The London Times. “There are more Russian officials who came to Slunfeh in recent weeks. We don’t know how many but I can assure you there has been Russian reinforcement.”
The Times also reported that a rebel website stated the Russian forces “started to take a direct role in organising regime defensive lines in the mountains above Latakia.” The rebels even claim two Russian drones crashed “in rebel held areas of nearby Idlib province in July.”
However, U.S. officials did not comment on the latest reports.
In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated the Kremlin’s support for Assad. Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem told the media that he received a “promise of aid to Syria – politically, economically and militarily.”
Putin vowed support for Assad when the country dived into a civil war. In July 2012, Ruslan Pukhov, a Russian defense analyst, said the Kremlin chose Assad because it “fears the spread of Islamic radicalism and the erosion of its superpower status.” From The New York Times:
Since 2005, Russian defense contracts with Syria have amounted to only about $5.5 billion — mostly to modernize Syria’s air force and air defenses. And although Syria had been making its scheduled payments in a fairly timely manner, many contracts were delayed by Russia for political reasons. A contract for four MiG-31E fighter planes was annulled altogether. And recently it became known that Russia had actually halted the planned delivery of S-300 mobile antiaircraft missile systems to Syria.
Over 2,200 Russians are currently fighting with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. The Interior Ministry reported over 400 Chechens have joined terrorist groups, mainly ISIS, since the Syrian Civil War broke out. These statics mean that outside of the Middle East, Russia is the largest contributor of people to ISIS. While leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hardly shows his face, the terrorist group plasters military leader Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen, all over its propaganda. ISIS featured him in a video last August from one of its children training centers, with children showing off their military skills for al-Shishani.
Chechens in Syria threatened President Vladimir Putin for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in a video released last September, vowed to liberate Chechnya and Russia’s North Caucasus.
“We will, with the consent of Allah, free Chechnya and all of the Caucasus!” said the fighter. “The Islamic State is here and will stay here, and it will spread with the grace of Allah! Your throne has already been shaken. It is under threat and will fall with our arrival. We’re already on our way with the grace of Allah!”