Breaking News: Russian troops land in Syria

Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria


The Russian service of the BBC has confirmed that a contingent of Russian “antiterrorist special forces” have landed in Syria. The news first appeared on Monday on the websites of several Russian news agencies, including Interfax and RIA Novosti. The latter claimed that the Russian troops, who were said to be Marines, arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus onboard the tanker Iman, which is part of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. According to the report, the tanker is strictly tasked with performing “logistical tasks [including] the replenishment of fuel and food [and] providing maritime anti-piracy security in the Gulf of Aden”. According to a statement from the Russian Black Sea Command, the special forces had landed in Syria in order to “demonstrate the Russian presence in the turbulent region and possibly evacuate Russian citizens”. Shortly after the initial reports of the troops’ landing in Tartus, ABC News spoke to an anonymous source at the United Nations Security Council, who described the news as “a bomb” that was “certain to have serious repercussions” on the situation in Syria. Soon afterwards, however, an unnamed source in the Syrian Ministry of National Defense told the SANA news agency in Damascus that the reports of Russian troops landing in Syria were “completely devoid of truth” and said the presence of the Russian tanker was connected with an anti-piracy mission. The Russian Ministry of Defense also told reporters that the Iman is not a warship and that its crew is composed entirely of civilian personnel. But a separate report on the Russian-language service of the BBC claims that, although the vessel is indeed hydrographic —designed to collect undersea topographic data— it contains sophisticated dual-use hardware that can easily be used for intelligence collection. The BBC report repeats earlier claims by the Interfax news agency that the Russian ship arrived in Tartus with a large contingent of marine brigade and airborne assault battalion members. It also quotes sources from the Syrian opposition, which allege that Russian troops were indeed seen disembarking in Taurus. Russia, which has maintained a naval logistics support base Tartus since 1971, is one of the Syrian government’s most vocal allies. Along with China, it has resisted attempts by Western countries to impose sanctions on the government in Damascus in response to its crackdown on opposition protesters. ABC News, which is one of a handful of Western news media to have picked up the story, says it contacted officials in Russia’s embassy to the United States and the United Nations, who refused to comment. It also contacted US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who said Washington had “not heard of the reports of Russian troops in Syria” and declined to comment.

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