1,700 Russian soldiers deployed to Syria
A Russian soldier told the newspaper Kommersant that more than 1,700 Russian military personnel are currently stationed at Tartus, a port in Syria. They have reportedly been deployed to the Russian Navy's logistics and maintenance support center.
“They are equipping and guarding the site and rebuilding the pier,” the source told Kommersant. According to the soldier, when the conflict in Syria began, only a few people were stationed at the base.
A Joint Staff source confirmed to Kommersant that the logistics and maintenance support center at Tartus is currently undergoing improvements. He told the newspaper that the Russian military has not intervened in the conflict.
Back in August, 2010 the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Vladimir Vysotsky, reported that the port in Tartus will be able to receive heavyweight ships, including cruisers and aircraft carriers, by 2012: “The stationing site will be developed first, then the naval base. The first state of development and modernization will be completed by 2012.” The civil war in Syria delayed these plans by several years.
Various media sources have been reporting on Russia’s growing military presence in Syria since early September. Russia has claimed that its military cooperation with Syria is legal and in line with contracts for weapons supplies. Russian authorities say there are no Russian soldiers participating in the fighting in Syria.
In mid-September, Stratfor published satellite images showing construction at Assad International Airport near Latakia in Syria. Moscow announced on September 15 that Russia is participating in the construction because the airport’s airstrip is in such poor condition that it is impeding necessary military operations in the country. According to a military source speaking with the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, these operations include delivering humanitarian aid and weapons purchased by Syria. The source also said that Russian soldiers are guarding the airstrip and the delivery of goods, but are not participating in any fighting in the country.
On September 16, Russian military high command warned that Moscow may build an air force base in Syria.
The Foreign Minister of Syria warned that Damascus may ask Moscow to bring in Russian troops.
On September 18, a group of Russian soldiers reportedly refused to be deployed in Latakia, Syria, on secret orders. They told Gazeta.ru that they have appealed to the Military Prosecutor’s Office to dispute the deployment, and several have submitted letters of resignation from the army.
For more on what we know and don’t know about Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war, see Russian troops in Syria: What we know and don’t know about the Russian military’s role in the Syrian civil war