Russia Denies It Plans To Take Part In Syria's Military Operations

Sep 8, 2015
Originally published on September 9, 2015 10:50 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the battle for the future of Syria, Russia and the West view it very differently. Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. wants him out. There are signs Russia is stepping up its support of Assad and the U.S. is telling Russia to back off. Here's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Assad has survived four years of civil war thanks to supplies and support from Russia and Iran. But last week, anonymous U.S. intelligence sources told reporters that Russia was stepping up its military activity in Syria. They said that Russian teams had set up an air traffic control center and barracks to house hundreds of people at a Syrian government airfield. The sources said Russia had requested permission from third countries that would allow it to fly military aircraft into the area. Russia's state-run international broadcaster, RT, presented the story as an example of U.S. media hyping an anti-Russia line.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Western media have, over the past few days, been headlining that Russia is ramping up its military presence in Syria. Although Washington hasn't confirmed the accuracy of these reports, the story's prompted the U.S. secretary of state to contact his Russian counterpart on Sunday.

FLINTOFF: Secretary Kerry did call Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to express concerns about the reports of a Russian buildup. The State department said that if the reports were accurate, Russian actions could escalate the conflict, increase the flow of refugees and risk confrontation with the U.S.-supported coalition against the Islamic State. That's because the Syrian rebels, supported by the United States, are also fighting Assad. Russian reporters asked President Putin about the U.S. claims. Putin criticized the U.S. campaign against ISIS, saying it was ineffective. But he added that it was too early to say that Russia would be ready to take part in military operations.

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VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) We have provided Syria with significant support anyway, both in equipment and armaments and in personnel training.

FLINTOFF: Some Russian analysts are speculating that Putin is aiming for a bigger say in international policy on Syria but not necessarily a bigger military role. Putin said he wants to create a coalition to fight terrorism, adding that the effort should go side-by-side with political change in Syria. But that change would keep Assad in power.

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PUTIN: (Through interpreter) The Syrian president agrees with this, too, including, say, holding early parliamentary elections

FLINTOFF: The United States and its allies have insisted that Assad must go. Syrian policy will likely take center stage when Putin appears before the U.N. General Assembly later this month in New York. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.