Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Multiple outlets (including us) picked up yesterday’s ABC News story about Russian anti-terrorism troops arriving in Syria, and a version of the story currently sits near the top of Reddit under the title “Russian troops roll into Syria to support Assad” — as the story was originally titled when syndicated to Yahoo News.Given that Russia has today decided to approve UN and Red Cross-led efforts to control the violence in Syria, this story confused us — Russia seemed to be sending mixed messages.
Remember, this is the key part of the story (pay attention to the juxtaposition of sentences):
Now the Russian Black Sea fleet’s Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency.
Zero Hedge has done some digging on the Russian sources behind the ABC News report, finding a somewhat different perspective.
What ABC News wrote:
RIA Novosti, a news outlet with strong ties to the Kremlin, trumpeted the news in a banner headline that appeared only on its Arabic language website. The Russian embassy to the U.S. and to the U.N. had no comment, saying they have “no particular information on” the arrival of a Russian anti-terrorism squad to Syria.
Zero Hedge writes points towards the Russian version of that cited-Ria Novosti story (excuse the confusing Google translation):
defence Ministry denied the information circulated a number of media that the coast of Syria are ostensibly Russian warships.
“No Russian warships, performing tasks from the shores of Syria, no. In the Syrian port of Tartus 10 days of the ship auxiliary fleet tanker” Iman “which performs the tasks logistics – the replenishment of fuel and food – of the Black Sea and Northern Fleets, which provides security shipping in the Gulf of Aden anti-piracy “, – told RIA Novosti representative of management information and the defence Ministry.
Previously, some Russian and foreign media reported that the Black Sea Fleet tanker “Iman” on board which is a group of Marines, ostensibly to perform combat missions off the coast of Syria.
The Arabic version of the article, specifically cited by ABC News, provide an unnamed source as saying there are two ships in the region, one containing a counter-terrorist force. However, It goes on to cite an Interfax report that says the ship was replacing a different ship which already contained Russian military, and the military is there to support “the evacuation of Russian nationals from there when necessary”.
After reading these sources, our takeaway from reading the reports cited by ABC doesn’t seem so different to the official Russian story — that a tanker has docked in Russia’s naval supply yard in Syria, with its standard anti-terrorism regiment attached due to frequent pirate attacks in the region.
Experts seem to agree. One analyst, Viktor Murakhovski, told the BBC’s Russian service that if there are troops onboard the ships, their numbers are “too small to have a serious impact on the events in Syria”. Another, Ilya Kramnik, said they were likely there to help evacuate civilians or for “the protection of the Russian base in the event of any incident and a possible cover-up of arms in case it will try to catch.”
Maybe Russia does have troops inside Syria. We don’t really know, but they have a naval base in the country, and due to their close links with the Syrian regime, it seems likely they may have a lot of Russian nationals in the country they want to evacuate should the situation in the country deteriorate. Hesitantly, we’d probably say they do have some sort of small military presence there.
But the idea that this anti-terrorist squad would actively be supporting the Syrian regime seems unlikely. While Russian domestic policy is sometimes stunningly cynical, Russia’s foreign policy is, if nothing else, based in extreme realism. And while they may drag their feet and offer all kinds of indirect support to Bashar Assad, supplying troops to actively fight on the ground is (we hope) a step too far.
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