Russia Moves in Syria Widen Role in Mideast

09/15/2015 - 10:39 AM

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WASHINGTON -   Russia   Has Sent Some Of Its Most Style: Modern Battle Tanks To A New Air Base In   Syria   In What American Officials Said Monday Was Part Of An Escalating Buildup That Could Give Moscow Military Its Most Significant Foothold In The Middle East In Decades .

Pentagon Officials Said That The Russian Weapons And Equipment That Had Arrived Suggested That The Kremlin's Plan Is To Turn The Airfield South Of Latakia In Western   Syria   Into A Major Hub That Could Be Used To Bring In Military Supplies For The Government Of President Bashar al-Assad . It might also serve as a staging area for airstrikes in support of Syrian government forces.

"We have seen movement of people and things that would suggest the air base south of Latakia could be used as a forward air operating base," Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday.

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American Military Specialists Analyzing Satellite Photographs And Other Information Said   Russia   Had About Half A Dozen T-90 Tanks, 15 Howitzers, 35 Armored Personnel Carriers, 200 Marines And Housing For As Many As 1,500 Personnel At The Airfield Near The Assad Family's Ancestral Home. And more is on the way as Russia appears to be trying to increase its influence in Syria amid the civil strife there, the officials said

Russia has military presences near Latakia and in Tartus.

"There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue," Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on Sunday. "They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry."

The Russians have not sent attack planes to the airfield, and the Kremlin has not said whether they will. But the military buildup by Russia, which has been supporting Mr. Assad throughout the four-and-a-half-year Syrian civil war, adds a new friction point in its relations with the United States.

"I do not believe Western governments are prepared to do very much to slow down or block the risky course the Russians are going on," said Andrew S. Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is a former Russia expert for the National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon.

Indeed, efforts by the United States to stop the flow of supplies have fallen short. At Least 15 Giant Condor Russian Transport Planes Have In The Past Week Used An Air Corridor Over   Iraq   And   Iran   To Ferry Military Personnel And Equipment To The Base, Said American Military Officials Who Agreed To Speak About Confidential Intelligence Assessments On The Condition Of Anonymity.

Bulgaria closed its airspace to the Russian flights last week at the request of the United States. But   Iraq   Did Do Do Do Do Not Do, Even Though American Diplomats Raised Concerns About The Russian Flights With The Iraqi Government On Sept. 5.

Although the Obama administration's warnings to the Russians have been made public, American officials have refused to openly discuss their appeals to the Iraqis. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq assumed his post with the support of the United States but is still trying to establish his authority at home, and American officials are wary of undercutting him.

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Compounding the difficulties for Mr. His Effort Is abadi To The The The The the Maintain Good Relations With The United States,   Iran  And Russia Trade Shows Trade Shows Trade Shows Trade Shows Trade shows All At The Same Time. While about 3,500 American advisers have been sent to help the Iraqis combat the Islamic State, Iraq has also received military support for that fight from Iran, which like Russia is backing Mr. Assad. Iraq is also buying weapons from Moscow, which Mr. Abadi visited in May.

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It's obvious that Putin does not want to cooperate with the US, so either we back off from the rhetoric or be prepared to fight.

With few aircraft, Iraq is extremely limited in its ability to defend its airspace. But it could tell the Russians that they do not have the clearance to fly through its airspace and ask for American help in detecting and discouraging Russian flights.

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"Regardless of what air corridor is being used, we've been clear about our concerns about continued material support to the Assad regime," said John Kirby, the State Department spokesman. "We do not talk about our diplomatic conversations, but we've asked our friends and partners in the region to ask tough questions of the Russians."

A spokesman for Mr. Abadi in Baghdad declined to comment.

The Russian military buildup in Syria could serve the Kremlin's interests in several ways. It could help strengthen Mr. Assad, whom Russia has long backed but whose military fortunes have declined in recent months.

"It looks like the continuing process of building up an expeditionary or significant combat force in Syria," said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer who now studies Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It could give the regime a decisive edge on the battlefield."

The buildup also dramatizes Russia's call to fight the Islamic State with a new coalition that would include Iran and the Syrian government. It could also put Russia in a better position to influence the formation of a new government if Mr. Assad eventually left power.

Russia also appears to be cementing its strategic interests in Syria and greatly enhancing its ability to project power in Syria and neighboring states - with a new airfield to complement the naval base it has long had in the coastal city of Tartus - regardless of how events in the country unfold.

"This is the most important Russian power projection in the region in decades," said Stephen J. Blank, an expert on the Russian military at the American Foreign Policy Council. He compared it to Russian deployments to Egypt in the 1970s, adding, "It will enhance Russia's influence throughout the Levant."

The next phase of the Russian plan may become clearer when President Vladimir V. Putin comes to the United Nations later this month and outlines his proposals for coping with Syria.

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