According to a report published in the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai, and related by the Jerusalem Post, Russian ground troops are already deployed in considerable force across Syria.
“The report, which has not been substantiated by other sources, claims Russian military forces have been providing cover for T-90 tanks along with military air support which have attacked multiple strategic targets held by rebel forces in Idlib and Latakia,” the Jerusalem Post writes.
This would represent a much larger deployment than the handful of troops and half-dozen tanks protecting Russia’s airfield in Syria. According to the Kuwaitis, Russian forces have been quite active across the Syrian battlefield, taking control of “multiple strategic positions” and forcing “numerous rebel battalions to retreat.”
It may not be a coincidence that last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly told his military officers that a new phase in the Syrian operation would soon begin. “Our objectives are being fulfilled and fulfilled well,” said Putin. “But for now that is not enough to cleanse Syria of rebels and terrorists and to protect Russians from possible terrorist attacks. The military campaign has not achieved enough and a next phase is needed.”
Of course, even if Russia has refrained from using ground troops to date, its military calculations might change after Turkey’s destruction of a Russian fighter this morning, and two reported Russian military deaths during search-and-rescue operations.