Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, meets with veteran Syrian exiled opposition figure, Haitham Manna, in Moscow, Russia, Aug. 14, 2015. The meeting was part of†a Russian effort to help mediate the†Syrian conflict.(Photo: Ivan Sekretarev, AP)
Russia said Thursday it is sending humanitarian assistance, military supplies and advisers to Syria and will send additional aid if asked, raising U.S. concerns it will escalate the civil war and send even more migrants to Europe.
“Russia is airlifting military products to Syria under the effective contracts, as well as humanitarian assistance,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, according to the official Tass news agency.
Lavrov said Russian military personnel have been in Syria “for many years,” to train and support forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in the country’s four-year civil war. Russia will consider additional steps “exclusively at the request and with the consent of the Syrian government or other countries in the region, if the talk is about assistance or the struggle against terrorism,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s support for strongman Assad pits Moscow against U.S. policy, which favors his departure, although President Obama has not taken any direct military steps to oust him. Instead, the administration has been training a band of so-called moderate rebels to combat the Islamic State, which has taken advantage of the civil war to recruit fighters and set up its headquarters in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Moscow supports the Syrian army because there are no other credible groups that could defeat Islamic State militants in that country, according to Russia’s Pravda news site. Peskov said Russia will discuss the issue at the U.N. General Assembly this month in New York City.
Russia’s move comes after Bulgaria and Ukraine this week closed their airspace to Russian flights to Syria to stop any Russian military buildup there. Greece announced Monday it received an American request to deny Syria-bound Russian flights over its airspace. Iran, Assad’s other major ally, has agreed to allow Russian flights to Syria.
Three Russian transport planes landed this week in Syria and off-loaded supplies in the Assad stronghold of Latakia, unnamed U.S. officials told several media outlets, including CNN and AFP.
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