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Russian ‘volunteers’ preparing to join Assad troops in fight against IS

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The ‘volunteer unit’ will, according reliable reports, include battle-hardened veterans who have previously fought in eastern Ukraine.

Story by Samuel Abuya


Moscow, Russia: One of the top and most outspoken lawmakers in Russia has confirmed that ‘a unit of volunteers’ from his country is preparing to go to Syria and join hands with Assad’s forces in fighting the Islamic State militants. The lawmaker also said that the ‘volunteers’ will help Syrian troops in fighting against other terrorist groups in the eastern European country.

While making comments to Russia’s Interfax-AVN, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov said that it is very likely Russia will get involved on the ground battles in Syria. Komoyedov, who is the head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, did not, however, give a timeline when that is likely to happen.

Komoyedev’s remarks come after unconfirmed reports indicate that Russian volunteers are already on the ground in Syria fighting alongside Syrian troops.

Meanwhile, NATO has demanded answers from Russia after Turkey reported airspace incursions by Russian warplanes. Russia, however, said that it was targeting terrorists in northern Syria and blamed poor weather conditions for the incursions.

Last week, Russia started its airstrikes targeting IS elements and other terrorist groups in Syria. The ‘other terrorists’ that are being referred to by Russia are believed to be the so-called “moderate rebels“, supported by Gulf States and some Western nations, notably the US, in their armed opposition against the Assad regime in Syria.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met on Monday with the Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirliogu to deliberate on the Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict. According to the organization’s decision making organ, the North Atlantic Council, Turkish authorities warned the Russian warplanes to leave their airspace terming the actions “irresponsible behavior”.

While responding to Turkey’s claims, a spokesman of the Russia’s Defense Ministry Major General Igor Konashenkov told local media that the incidents occurred as a result of poor weather experienced along the Syria-Turkish border.

He also said measures have been put in place by the Russian aircraft commanders in Syria to avoid a repeat of such incidences.

However, by the time of going to press, Stoltenberg has said that Russia’s violation of Turkish airspace over the weekend “does not look like an accident”. Russia is yet to respond to this claim.

For its direct military engagement in Syria, Russia has been castigated by western governments, who accuse it of targeting all anti-Assad elements instead of the Islamic State fighters.


US concerns over Russia’s airstrikes in Syria

On Monday, US State Department termed Russia’s airstrikes in Syria “provocative” and “reckless”. It also didn’t agree with Russia’s military involvement in the fight.

“This was the kind of unprofessional conduct we were hoping to avoid,” said an unnamed senior US defense official.

The Syrian news agency SANA quoted the country’s Defense Minister Walid al-Moallem saying that the airstrikes being done by Russia came after several months of preparations.

Rebels vow to retaliate

Several Syrian militant groups vowed Monday to attack Russian troops following Moscow’s airstrikes on their positions.

The Ahrar al-Sham group released a statement of a faction of 41 militant groups vowing to form an alliance to face the Russian-Iran alliance that is, according to them, occupying Syria.

Assad said on Sunday that the entire Middle East region will be in trouble or even destroyed if the Russian airstrikes targeting militant positions does succeed.


New York Times