As Russia’s aggressive nature continues, intelligence sources are now believing Vladimir Putin’s forces are now co-leading the war in Syria.
As the Pentagon warily eyes a Russian military build-up in Syria, Western intelligence sources tell Fox News that the escalated Russian presence began just days after a secret Moscow meeting in late July between Iran’s Quds Force commander — their chief exporter of terror — and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Fox News has learned Quds head Qassem Soleimani and Putin discussed such a joint military plan for Syria at that meeting, an encounter first reported by Fox News in early August.
“The Russians are no longer advising, but co-leading the war in Syria,” one intelligence official said.
The Quds Force is the international arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, involved in exporting terrorism to Iran’s proxies throughout the Middle East including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Intelligence sources told Fox News that — in addition to the previously reported arrival of nearly 50 Russian marines, 100 housing units and armored vehicles delivered by a stream of massive Antonov-124 Condor military transport aircraft and two Russian landing ships in Syria — the Russians have delivered aviation, intelligence and communications facilities to deploy a powerful offensive force.
Officials who have monitored the build-up say they’ve seen more than 1,000 Russian combatants — some of them from the same plainclothes Special Forces units who were sent to Crimea and Ukraine. Some of these Russian troops are logistical specialists and needed for security at the expanding Russian bases.
Most observers believe Russia’s intentions are clear and they are copying their Ukraine playbook.
The Americans say Russia’s intentions are unclear. But they are so concerned that Secretary of State John Kerry called the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, twice this month ) and warned of a possible “confrontation” with the United States, if the buildup led to Russian offensive operations in support of Mr. Assad’s forces that might hit American trainers or allies.
The United States is carrying out airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State, which is trying to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, as well as struggling to train and arm moderate opposition groups that could secure territory taken from the extremists.
Russian officials add to the tensions and growing suspicions when they play down or lie about what they are really up to, as they did in Ukraine. In the case of Syria, they initially said the shipments carried only humanitarian aid; later, they admitted deploying military advisers and hardware, but insisted it was all part of a longstanding military agreement with the Assad government. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman also said the Kremlin was weighing its options in terms of intensifying the fight against extremist groups like the Islamic State.
Russia has already threatened America with “unintended consequences” if they do not speak and counsel with them. We need real leadership from President Obama or we will continue to be pushed around.
Russia called on Friday for military-to-military cooperation with the United States to avert “unintended incidents” as it stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria, where U.S. officials believe Moscow is building up forces to protect President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States is using Syrian air space to lead a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, and a greater Russian presence raises the prospect of the Cold War superpower foes encountering each other on the battlefield.