BEIRUT – Vladimir Putin told Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Moscow that Russia was prepared to strike any country that provides man-portable air-defense systems to Syrian rebels, according to a Kuwaiti daily closely following Moscow’s military intervention on behalf of the Syrian regime.
“Russia used cruise missiles [against rebels] to confirm to all players on the ground in Syria that [Moscow] will target everyone who supplies extremists with missiles that affect Russian planes,” Al-Rai quoted Putin as saying during his Tuesday sit-down with Assad.
A close confidante of Assad—who spoke on condition of anonymity—also told Al-Rai that Putin had emphasised his readiness to retaliate against anyone threatening his country’s forces in Syria.
“Every state that supports the militants in a way that endangers Russian forces will be a legitimate target for us,” the Russian president allegedly said.
During the meeting, Putin also reportedly explained that his country had “altered its foreign policy” and now aims to “equal to the role of Washington at the height of its power, not today.”
“The United States is regressing noticeably,” the daily quoted him as saying.
Since Russia began its aerial bombardment campaign in Syria on September 30, rebels have pleaded for the provision of MANPADs to strike Russian fighter jets.
However, reports indicate that the US is unwilling to supply rebels with the anti-aircraft weapon system.
“We are not going to shoot Russian airplanes. We are not going to hit their airfields [in Syria]. And we are not going to equip [rebels] with MANPADs,” an unnamed US official told the Daily Beast on October 1.
Russian ground forces not necessary, Assad says
Al-Rai also reported that Assad told Putin he does need Russia to dispatch ground forces.
“Assad said that the battle fronts do not need Russian ground [forces] because the Syrian army’s current numbers have increased as a result of the confidence that has returned to its ranks since Russia’s intervention,” Assad’s confidante told the Kuwaiti daily.
“And that goes without mentioning the force made up of regional allies supporting the Syrian army, who are fighting side by side [with it] to wipe out the terrorists,” the sources quoted Assad as saying during his Moscow trip.
Hezbollah and Iran have reportedly deployed a large number of their troops fight alongside regime soldiers in northwest Syria, with reports emerging of mounting casualties among both foreign fighting forces outside Hama, Latakia and Aleppo.
Despite not asking for Russian ground support, Assad allegedly asked Putin to ramp up Russia’s aerial campaign and provide regime forces with modern tanks.
“Putin immediately gave orders to his defense minister Sergey Shoygu, [telling him to] work on increasing Russian strikes and air support, and to supply the Syrian army with all the T-72 tanks and new combat vehicles it needs,” the report claimed.
According to the source, Putin also instructed Shoygu to supply the Syrian army with “high-tech electronic devices that monitor all projectiles passing through the air and give coordinates to the army so that it can respond instantaneously.”