Russia Constructing Military Base in Syria, US Intelligence Officials Say

Russian President Vladimir Putin / AP

Russia is constructing a military base in the Syrian port city of Latakia, U.S. intelligence officials said last week, raising alarm about the country’s increasing support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Telegraph reports:

The anonymous officials say Russia has set up an air traffic control tower and transported prefabricated housing units for up to 1,000 personnel to an airfield serving the Syrian port city of Latakia. Russia has also requested the rights to fly over neighboring countries with military cargo aircraft during September, according to the reports.

Such activity is evidence that Russia may be increasing its involvement in the Syrian civil war. Russia has been backing the Assad regime by providing Syria with financial help, intelligence, advisers, and weapons.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stood on the side of the Syrian rebels fighting the regime. On Friday, President Obama and Saudi Arabian King Salman emphasized that the settling of conflict in Syria will only be possible in the wake of an end to the Assad regime.

Amid the reports of Russian action in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry called his counterpart in Russia, Sergey V. Lavrov, Saturday to warn against bolstering military assistance to Syria.

"The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria," the State Department said in a statement.

Recently, photographs emerged that appear to depict a Russian fighter jet and troops speaking Russian operating in Syria. Moscow has couched its support of the Assad regime as an effort to help combat the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in the region. The U.S. campaign against IS in Syria has relied on training moderate Syrian rebels to fight the terrorist group.

On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the Moscow’s aid to Syria as consistent with its policy toward the country.

"We have always supplied equipment to them for their struggle against terrorists," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria V. Zakharova said in an interview with the New York Times. "We are supporting them, we were supporting them and we will be supporting them."

Russia and Iran have both been big supporters of the Assad regime, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserting Monday, "Those who have set a condition about the Syrian president in the past two years should be blamed for the continued war and they should account for the bloodshed."