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Boots on the Ground: Russian military presence in Syria poses challenge to US-led intervention

Published: December 23, 2012
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Source: Guardian

Russian military advisers are manning some of Syria‘s more sophisticated air defences – something that would complicate any future US-led intervention, the Guardian has learned.

The advisers have been deployed with new surface-to-air systems and upgrades of old systems, which Moscow has supplied to the Assad regime since the Syrian revolution broke out 21 months ago.

The depth and complexity of Syria’s anti-aircraft defences mean that any direct western campaign, in support of a no-fly zone or in the form of punitive air strikes against the leadership, would be costly, protracted and risky. The possibility of Russian military casualties in such a campaign could have unpredictable geopolitical consequences.

[...]

The upgrades were supplied by Moscow, which sees them as a bulwark against western-imposed regime change and protection of a longstanding investment in Syria. The country includes Russia‘s biggest electronic eavesdropping post outside its territory, in Latakia, and its toehold on the Mediterranean, a small naval base at Tartus.

Russian security and defence officials, who are notoriously loth to publicly comment on their operations abroad, have repeatedly denied providing explicit support for the Assad regime.

Over the weekend, the head of Russia’s ground forces air defence, Major General Alexander Leonov, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station: “Syria’s air-defence system is a no-nonsense force. As a result, no one has ever used serious air combat power against it.”

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