Saturday, 29 August 2015

New evidence proves Russian military directly engaging in Syrian Civil War

By Stijn Mitzer

The regime's offensive in the Lattakia Governorate continues to reveal previously unknown details about Russia's involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Apart from the sighting of recently delivered Russian BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), new evidence now confirmes Russian military personnel has a key role in leading the offensive on the ground.

Sound fragments heard in a news report from the Media Wing of the National Defence Force (NDF) covering the offensive in Lattakia, which was also the first to reveal the presence of BTR-82As in Syria, confirm earlier accounts of Russian military personnel being sent to Lattakia in support of the ongoing regime operations in this area. Together with the Syrian Arab Army (SyAA) and the recently arrived Republican Guard, the NDF launched a new offensive aimed at recapturing territory previously lost to the rebels in North-Eastern Lattakia. If it proves successful, the offensive will greatly enhance the regime's control over its currently endangered heartland, and provide a serious blow to rebel forces.

The conversation is difficult to hear due to the booming noise coming from the BTR-82A's 30mm 2A72 autocannon, yet certain phrases can be made out, including calls to resume fire support and at some point "Павлин, павлин, мы выходим", which translates to "Peacock, Peacock, we are moving out" (Peacock presumably being a callsign).

A translation from 2:03 to 2:30 of the video is provided below:

2:03: ''Давай!'' - Give me/Come on!

2:06: ''Бросай!'' - Throw!

2:10: "Ещё раз! Ещё давай!'' - Once again! Do it again!

2:30: "Павлин, павлин, мы выходим" - Peacock, Peacock [callsign], we are moving out.

Although only little of the conversation is heard, it appears to be directed at the crew of the BTR-82A, implicating the vehicle was in fact operated by Russian military personnel. However, when the subject of Russian personnel being sent to Syria was raised on the 4th of August to Vladimir Putin's press secretary, following comments made by the head of Russia's Airborne Troops, he reportedly denied requests of such nature had been made by the Syrian regime.


Interestingly, this is not the first indication of Russian ground involvement in the Syrian Civil War this month. The news website Souria Net reported on the 12th of August that Russian military personnel was dispatched to the village of Slanfah (some 30 kilometres East of Lattakia) to defend against the rebels' advance on the primarily Alawite ground.

Consequently, the pro-regime newspaper al-Watan ("The Homeland") published an article on the 26th of August claiming Russia is expanding its presence in Syria by constructing a new military base in Jablah, a coastal city in the Lattakia Governorate some 25 kilometres South of Lattakia itself. The same article mentions a variety of rumours and conspiracy theories regarding Western and Russian meddling in the Syrian Civil War including the much-publicised but ultimately false story of the delivery of six Russian MiG-31 interceptors last month, as well as the supposed start of handing satellite imagery to pro-regime forces by Russia. Although no evidence towards the the provision of satellite imagery has been found before, it is known that Russia supported the Syrian regime both prior to and during the Civil War with signals intelligence (SIGINT) through its Center-S, S-2 and (presumably) S-3 intelligence gathering facilities, the first of which was captured on the 5th of October 2014.

The news also coincides with an upsurge of sightings of Russian-made drones in Syrian skies, further indicating the initiation of novel intelligence programmes in recent months.

While the fact that Russian military contractors have operated in Syria before might lead one to argue the conversation in Russian might not have been made by Russian military personnel, it should be noted that the probability of such contractors operating an advanced weapons system like the BTR-82A are very slim. Additionally, the Russian government actually forbids the deployment of contractors in Syria, and the FSB detained the leadership of the so-called Slavonic Corps upon return to Russia (which was in October 2013). Of course, the statements made by Syrian media corroborate the notion of Russian enlisted personel in Syria, further undermining any arguments that could be made towards the theory that the exchange in the video was made by private military contractors.

Obviously, this evidence of secretive Russian military involvement in Syria does not represent an isolated occurance: much-publicised reports of Russian military personnel operating in Ukraine and years of unabating (even increasing) support to the Syrian regime serve as a testament to Russia's dedication towards protecting its foreign interests, even if this means getting directly entangled in open conflict. The fact that such a stealthy intervention now appears to be occurring once again increases the uncertainty of Syria's future, and may spell the onset of much wider Russian participation in a war that nears its half-decade mark.