Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem, meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow’s Kremlin, Russia on June 29, 2015.AP
Putin’s military build-up in Syria could be a game-changer for Israel
WATCH: Russia holds military drill as experts in Syria inspect and expand air bases
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian military experts were present in Syria, the first official confirmation that the Russian military is on the ground in Syria after weeks of increased talk that Moscow may be growing its presence there.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said the experts were assisting with Russian arms deliveries to Syria which Moscow says are aimed at combating terrorism.
On Tuesday, Syria’s information minister denied reports of a Russian military buildup in his country, saying there were no Russian combat forces fighting alongside the army against mainly Islamist insurgents.
Omran al-Zoubi said the reports were “concocted in Western intelligence circles” to show the army was too weak without help from its foreign ally, and as a pretext for further support for rebels from countries who want President Bashar Assad ousted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that the United States’ requests to Greece and Bulgaria to close their airspace for Russian flights to Syria amount to “international boorishness.”
The United States asked Greece and Bulgaria earlier this week to deny overflight access, concerned by reports of a Russian military build-up in Syria. Moscow says it is simply helping Damascus fight Islamist militants.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said on Wednesday that his country would allow Russian supply flights to Syria to use its airspace if Moscow agrees to checks of their cargo at a Bulgarian airport. The Balkan country said on Tuesday it had refused a Russian request to use its airspace for the flights due serious doubts about the cargo onboard planes Russia says contain aid for Syria.
“If our Russian colleagues agree these flights to be checked at a Bulgarian airport we will issue such a permission,” Mitov told reporters.