Russian military presence in Syria. As Bashar al-Assad’s armies have failed him in the field, he has increasingly relied on outside help. Initially, that help came from Hezbollah and Iran, but now it appears to be Moscow’s turn. And Washington may finally be waking up to what looks like a substantial Russian intervention in Syria.
New satellite images, obtained by Foreign Policy, of construction at an air base near Latakia leave little doubt that U.S. policy toward ending the conflict in Syria, such as it is, is now in total disarray. As they say, seeing is believing.
Admittedly, there has long been a Russian military presence in Syria. When opposition forces overran a Syrian listening post in October last year, the images revealed that it was staffed by the Russian military. More recently, analysts have noted pictures and videos that seem to confirm the presence of Russian combat forces fighting in Syria. Russian military vehicles have been sighted, while Russian soldiers have posted images and comments on Russian social media sites like VKontakte and the California-based LiveJournal, detailing their service in the war-torn country. (Some of the best open-source analysis has been on Bellingcat’s website.)
It is very strange world we live in, one marked both by the “little green men” of Russia’s “hybrid” warfare who Moscow can disavow and by data ubiquity that allows analysts to mock those disavowals.
Still, there has always been a question about how extensive Russia’s support for the Syrian regime has been the past four years. Are those even Russians inside the Moscow-supplied combat vehicles? Open-source analysts have been quite enterprising in suggesting the answer is yes, hearing snippets of Russian in between bursts from the vehicle’s gun. But the Russians claim any Slavic accents are merely those of a very small number of trainers or advisors. Nothing to see here; please move along.