Reports: Reluctant Russian Soldiers Oppose ‘Secret’ Syria Mission

By Tom Balmforth | ( RFE/ RL )

MOSCOW — Several Russian soldiers are seeking help from human rights advocates to oppose what they say are secret orders to send them to Syria, according to media reports that add to evidence of a Russian military buildup in the war-torn Middle East country.

The Gazeta.ru news site on September 18 published a report containing interviews with four unnamed contract soldiers in the Black Sea port city of Novorossiisk who said a group of 20 of them had been specially recruited for deployment to Latakia, a Mediterranean coastal province held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“We don’t want to go to Syria, we don’t want to die there,” the report quoted a soldier identified only as Aleksei N. as saying. He and the others cited in the report are paid soldiers who serve under contracts, not conscripts.

They said that they were kept in the dark until the last minute as to their destination, and were told only on September 16 that they were due to sail for Syria the next day. Having received no formal, written order, the soldiers attempted to lodge official complaints and the trip was delayed, Gazeta.ru reported.

The BBC Russian Service quoted Sergei Krivenko, a member of the Kremlin human rights council, as saying soldiers and their parents had complained that the soldiers have been told they were being deployed to a “country with a hot climate” that was clearly Syria without having received a formal order — a violation of the law, he said.

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that the Kremlin had not received information about the issue from the Kremlin human rights council, an advisory body that holds occasional meetings with Putin, but was aware of the media reports.

Russian Buildup

Tension has been building for weeks over what U.S. officials and media reports say is a rapid Russian military deployment in Syria, where Moscow’s ally Assad has been losing territory to Islamic State [group] (IS) militants and other foes. According to U.S. intelligence and news reports, Russia is airlifting heavy weaponry, tanks, and naval infantry to Latakia.

The Pentagon and U.S. State Department said on September 14 that Russia’s recent activity suggested Moscow plans to establish a “forward air-operating base” there.

The apparent buildup has been accompanied by repeated Russian warnings that the United States cannot effectively fight IS militants who have seized swaths of Syrian territory without cooperating with Assad, whom Moscow has protected throughout a civil war that has killed some 250,000 people since 2011.

The United States says Assad must go as part of a peaceful solution to the conflict, and suspects that the goal of the increased Russian military activity is to prop him up — an effort that Washington has warned will only lead to more death and destruction and drive more Syrians to flee the country.

Russia has been sending arms to Syria throughout the war and has acknowledged sending personnel to service the weapons and train Syrians in their use. Speaking after Syria’s foreign minister denied reports that Russian combat troops were fighting in Syria , Kremlin spokesman Peskov said that Russia would consider sending troops if Damascus were to make such a request.

Via RFE/ RL

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Russia Sending Troops, Weapons To Syria | MSNBC

8 Responses

  1. There are a number of reasons Russia must support the Assad regime.
    • The Assad Regime is a constant and lucrative paying customer for expensive Russian air defense systems, military aircraft, weapons/ammunition, communications/surveillance systems and related technical support.
    • The small, leased from Syria, port facility at Tartous (Tartus) is the sole Russian naval facility intended for repair/refurbishment for their boats on the Mediterranean Sea.
    • An important Syrian/Russian-manned listening post (Center C) on the peak of Tel Al-Hara Mountain near the Golan Heights was taken by the Free Syrian Army earlier this year.
    • Renewed Russian interest in the Mediterranean, all but abandoned in the 1970s, may be a response to current U.S. military operations in Lask, Poland.
    • Russia can ill-afford to lose Assad’s Syria for strategic geographic reasons. Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are within driving distance of Syria.
    • Mr. Putin is under pressure within Russia to demonstrate stronger leadership given the circumstances of the potential erosion of the Russian Federation on a number of fronts and there is the on-going Ukraine/Crimea situation.

    • None of this is actually compelling. Syrian arms purchases are minor, Tartus isn’t used much. I think your later points more likely– it is about reestablishing Russia as a Power by asserting spheres of influence in the 19th century way, not about capitalist imperialism as Lenin would have described it.

      • Professor Cole – Perhaps the first three points should have been the final three. Nevertheless, these points are important in the current scheme of things with regards to the Syria/Russia relationship. This is both a business deal and a Russian move to expand power in this region. You are correct about the order of intention in the bigger picture.

      • Is at all possible, that Russia might have genuine security interest to supply and support the only credible force, preventing a tragedy in and around Syria, trough Caucasus Mountains to central Asia.
        Or is it just a passé emotional tantrum for attention by Russia.

  2. What I don’t understand is why Russia is being sneaky about this. They are on solid moral and legal territory to deploy military forces in Syria, if requested or invited by the Syrian government and I don’t think that will be a problem. It is the NATO countries that are on shaky legal and moral ground by engaging in military action and supporting and funding rebels within another sovereign country without their consent and with no authorization from the UN. Not to mention the fact that they have made it clear that they should be the ones to determine who the leader of Syria should be and not the Syrian people.

    As for the soldiers, they are fully within their rights to resist an illegal order or an order that does not follow the proper protocol. However, if they don’t want to “die” in Syria then they should really reconsider a career in the military of Russia or any NATO, or middle eastern nation. When you join a military you don’t get to pick and choose your deployments or where you will “die” and both Russia and NATO have made it clear that they will deploy globally if they deem it necessary.

  3. “Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.”

    Say no more.

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