Russia Sends Arms as Signs Grow of Shift in Syria
By Maher al-Mounnes
September 22, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "AFP"
- Damascus - Syria said Tuesday it had
received sophisticated new arms from Russia, including warplanes,
and deployed them against jihadists, as signs grew of a major shift
in the country's four-year conflict.
A senior military official told AFP Damascus had received a fresh
batch of arms, including at least five fighter planes, while a
monitoring group said there had been a marked increase in regime
attacks on the Islamic State group.
The deliveries came amid a rapid Russian military build-up in Syria,
with US officials saying Moscow had deployed 28 combat planes and
begun drone flights in the country.
The war in Syria has taken on a new dimension in recent days as
Moscow has moved to boost its military presence there, raising deep
concerns in Washington.
The Syrian military official said the new warplanes had arrived
Friday along with reconnaissance aircraft at a military base in
Latakia province, the traditional heartland of President Bashar
Damascus had also received "sophisticated military equipment to
fight IS," including targeting equipment and precision-guided
missiles, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The new weapons had already been deployed against IS in the cities
of Deir Ezzor and Raqa, the jihadist group's de facto capital in
"Russian weapons are starting to have an effect in Syria," the
- 'Not going to sit around' -
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said new Russian equipment
was being put into action, with at least 38 IS fighters killed
Monday in air strikes in jihadist-held towns in central Syria.
"The number of raids is growing and the strikes are more precise
after the Syrian air force received arms and more efficient planes
from Moscow," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Moscow has been an unwavering supporter of Assad during a conflict
that has seen more than 240,000 killed since March 2011, insisting
it would continue arms deliveries.
But Russia's intentions have been unclear in recent days as it
deployed a range of new weaponry and troops to its airbase near
On Monday, US officials said Moscow had deployed 12 SU-24 attack
aircraft, 12 SU-25 ground attack aircraft and four Flanker fighter
They said there were also about 20 Russian combat and transport
helicopters at the base and that Moscow was operating drone flights.
"They are not going to sit around," said Jeffrey White of the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"This kind of aircraft suggests that the Russians intend to exert
their combat power outside of Latakia in an offensive role."
The deployments have raised fears of an inadvertent confrontation
between Russian forces and the US-led coalition that has been
carrying out air strikes against IS in Syria for more than a year.
After an 18-month freeze in military relations triggered by NATO
anger over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, US and Russian
military officials held talks Friday aimed at avoiding unintended
incidents in Syria.
In another potential sign of an increasing Russian role, President
Vladimir Putin agreed a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu on Monday aimed at avoiding incidents in Syria.
- Bid to revive talks -
"A joint mechanism for preventing misunderstandings between our
forces" was agreed to at talks in Russia, Netanyahu's office said.
Israeli forces have reportedly carried out several strikes in Syria
on attempted Iranian arms transfers to Lebanese Shiite movement
Hezbollah, an Assad ally.
The deployments come as Russia pushes for the coalition of Western
and regional powers fighting IS to join forces with Assad against
Western and Gulf powers have long resisted any role for Assad in the
fight against IS, insisting he must go for Syria to have any hope of
Western diplomats suggest that Putin, isolated by the West over the
crisis in Ukraine, is trying to switch the focus to Syria, ahead of
a key address to the UN General Assembly on September 28.
Anthony Cordesman, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and
International Studies, said recent Russian moves were also aimed at
asserting Moscow's role in the region.
"Putting aircraft means that everybody has to pay attention to
Russia," he said. "Even if you fly a few demonstrative sorties, that
will give you leverage."
Efforts to find a negotiated solution to Syria's war have repeatedly
failed, despite the enormity of a crisis that has forced millions
from their homes, many of them seeking refuge in Europe.
The UN's envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, held meetings this week
in the latest bid to revive peace talks, his office said Tuesday.
In July, he proposed a fresh approach that would see Syrians taking
part in "thematic" working groups on resolving the conflict.
The envoy met with the heads of these groups in the past two days,
with the goal to "set the stage for a Syrian agreement to end the
conflict," a statement said.
"This is the defining humanitarian challenge of our times," de
Mistura said. "The Syrians deserve that we move faster towards a