Reuters news agency, quoting unidentified Lebanese sources, reports Russian troops have begun military operations in Syria in support of Bashar Assad’s government forces.
Officials in the United States, which opposes Assad, have said in recent days they suspected Russia is boosting aid to Syria.
Washington has been pressuring countries in the region to deny their airspace to Russian flights.
NATO is also worried.
“I am concerned about reports about the increased Russian military presence in Syria,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “That will not contribute to solving the conflict. I think it is important to now support all efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
Russia is a long time ally of Syria and confirmed it had “experts” on the ground there.
“Our country has long been supplying arms and military equipment to Syria in accordance with bilateral contracts,” explained Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. “There are also Russian military experts in Syria who are instructing [the Syrians] on the use of the military systems being delivered. The weapons which are handed over to the Syrian army are aimed at combating the terrorist threat.”
Moscow declined to comment on the scale and scope of its military presence.
Russia’s only naval base in the Mediterranean is at Tartous on the Syrian coast in territory held by Assad.
Moscow has dismissed US concerns, saying its military aid to the Assad regime was nothing out of the ordinary.