Vladimir Putin admitted on Friday during an economic forum in Vladivostok his country is providing Bashar al-Assad’s military with weapons and training.
The Russian president said it was “premature” to talk about direct military support for the Syrian army but said Russia is “already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons,” RIA Novosti reported.
Putin added his government has not ruled out direct military support in the future.
He said supplies sent to Syria fulfill contracts dating back five to seven years.
Russia has a naval facility in Tartus, Syria, on the Mediterranean. In November, 2011 a Russian flotilla led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov visited Tartus to show support for the al-Assad government at the outbreak hostilities between the government and US and Gulf Emirate supported mercenaries.
On Thursday the Obama administration indicated it is monitoring reports that Russia is conducting military operations in Syria. The White House said any attempt by Russia to support the Syrian government would be “destabilizing and counter-productive.”
On Wednesday state television in Damascus ran video footage of what appears to be Russian armored vehicles supporting Syrian troops fighting anti-Assad mercenaries in Latakia.
Mercenary groups also posted images to social media they said showed Russian jets and drones operating over the Idlib province.
Behind the Anti-ISIS Rhetoric
During remarks Friday Putin said Russia would like to “create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism” and added to that “end, we hold consultations with our American partners.”
He said he had “personally spoken on the issue with US President Obama.”
Last September, however, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said the United States is presenting a “two-faced stance” and a “double standard” in the supposed war against ISIS in Syria.
Evidence reveals jihadi terrorist groups in Syria are supported by the United States, a coalition of Gulf Emirate states led by Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
Over the last two years the distinction between “moderate” mercenary groups fighting to overthrow al-Assad and extremist groups such as al-Nusra and ISIS has all but disappeared.
“Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of,” The New York Times reported in April 2013.
In May a declassified US Defense Intelligence Agency document from 2012 revealed the United States and its partners supported the Islamic State and planned to establish a Salafist principality in Syria.
According to investigative reporter Nafeez Ahmed, the “leaked document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
As Tim Anderson notes, cooperation between so-called “moderate” groups and ISIS is predicated on destroying “a common enemy in Syria: ‘the Nussayri regime,’ a sectarian way of referring to supposedly apostate Muslims,” namely the Shia Alawites that ruled the country prior to the mercenary war.
Many Syrians view the US coalition ostensibly devised to combat ISIS in Syria as a ruse to take out al-Assad. Russia has also said it believes airstrikes aimed at ISIS are designed to overthrow the government.
Russia’s involvement in Syria is an effort to help the government of al-Assad defend itself against the increasingly brutal proxy war pursued by the United States and its partners, although Russia has not explicitly stated this is the case.
While the push for a no-fly zone in Syria enforced by the United States has lost momentum over the last few weeks, on Friday the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the US, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, joined the Syrian American Council and other groups in calling for one “to protect civilians from ongoing aerial attacks.”
If the US and its partners eventually establish a no-fly zone in Syria, Russian aircraft supporting Syrian military operations would ultimately be targeted and the proxy war in Syria may escalate into a shooting war between the United States and Russia.