Does Russia’s Military Buildup in Syria Mean Possible Ground Operations?

This Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 satellite image with annotations provided by GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus shows Russian tanks and armed personnel carriers at an air base in Latakia province, Syria. Russia on Thursday strongly urged the United States and its allies to engage the Syrian government as a "partner" in the fight against the Islamic State group, and offered to share any information about its military supplies to Damascus with Washington. (GeoNorth, AllSource Analysis, Airbus via AP)
Satellite image of Russian military equipment in Syria.

Russia has insisted there is nothing out of the ordinary about the military assistance to Syria, and  government officials in Syria have been playing down recent reports about an enhanced Russian military role, but insisting that Moscow remains a supportive ally.

Satellite images of Russian Military installations in Syria reportedly reveal a build up of Russian Mi- 24 Attack Helicopters and Mi 17 Troop Transports in Syria, both are key components for the provision of Rotary wing support for Russian ground forces. There is also evidence of T-90’s, which  Russia’s main battle tank and another key element to Russian ground operations.

T90
T-90 MBT

Worryingly, Vladimir Putin announced on the 1st of October that there would be a call up of 150,000 men to the Russian Army. This development when viewed with the beginning of airstrikes on Tuesday the 30th  of September and the build up of weapons systems in Syria, would suggest that Russia, despite comments by Senior Kremlin official Sergey Ivanov who ruled out the use of ground troops, is is in fact planning to commit to ground operations in Syria.

A spokesman for  President Putin claimed the to conscription of hundreds of thousands of new troops was not related to the escalating conflict in the Middle East. In conjunction with this Russian build up there are reports emerging of large numbers of Iranian troops and equipment in Syria, who are gearing up of a large scale ground offensive. With these developments it is highly likely that Russian troops will be in combat in Syria.

Rusian Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopter
Russian Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopter

In a twist worthy of a Tom Clancy novel Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he was ready to send his best fighters to support Moscow’s efforts and fight the Islamic State group, the Russian state news agency Tass reported. Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed ruler of the Chechen republic in Russia’s North Caucasus region, said he fully supports President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send warplanes to Syria and begin a bombing campaign.

president-ramzan-kadyrov
Chechen Leader Ramzan Kadyrov

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was prepared to welcome Russian military action in Syria as long as it is directed against ISIS and other Al Qaeda affiliates, but would have ‘grave concerns’ if it conducted strikes against other groups.The U.S. and Russia both agree on the need to fight the Islamic State but not about what to do with Assad. To further muddy the waters the activities of Hezbollah in Western Syria also presenting problems for US who have consider them a terrorist organization. Making any form of co-operation difficult.

Despite these issues, Moscow and Washington have had talks about airstrikes in an attempt to ensure that aircraft do not come in contact over Syria. What is of significance is the participation of Iran, who after many years on the outside of International community are now openly attempting to re-assert themselves as a regional power alongside Russia. Overshadowing the United States role in the region.

 

 

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