What’s Russia Doing in Syria? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

That’s the question we asked over the weekend. U.S. intel reports had suggested that Moscow was preparing to sneak in military personnel, and Secretary of State John Kerry had called his Russian counterpart to ask what was going on.

Now, it seems we have an answer:

That AP report says that Russian troops have arrived in “recent days.” Their goal:

Set up an air base near the Syrian city of Latakia, which could be used to deploy air strikes against Islamic State militants. Last night, Reuters reported that a “small” number of Russian forces have joined Syrian government-run military operations, citing “three Lebanese sources familiar with the political and military situation there.”

Earlier this week, the Obama administration, in an attempt to hinder Russia’s plans, asked Bulgaria and Greece to close off its airspaces to Russian transport planes. Moscow has been a strong ally to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the civil war there, which has entered its fifth year, and has supplied his government with weapons. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized the Obama administration for not working with al-Assad in its air war against the Islamic State. While Russia and the U.S. both recognize that the terrorist group is a threat, Lavrov said, the two nations have not agreed on an approach for fighting it.