U.S. officials have begun to reveal the kinds of military equipment Russia has been moving into Syria, leaving little doubt that they are establishing an air base in the war-ravaged country.
Moscow’s movements have been closely watched by the international community over the last few weeks, as observers debate whether the rapid buildup of weapons, troops and supplies near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia is presumably meant to aid diplomacy that will end the years-long civil war or to prop up the regime of embattled President Bahar al-Assad.
Asked if the White House has gleaned Russia’s intent with the rapid military expansion, press secretary Josh Earnest pleaded ignorance.
“Well to be blunt about it, no. The United States continues to be concerned with the ramping up, the escalation of military assets that Russia is sending to Syria,” he said Monday.
Earnest stressed that the Obama administration has “been engaged in conversations with the Russians to get a better sense about what their intentions and goals are. And we've made clear both in public and in private that doubling down on supporting Assad is a losing bet.”
While the motive behind Russia’s latest moves may escape Washington for the time being -- possibly until Russian President Vladimir Putin appears at the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week – defense and U.S. officials are learning more every day about the kind of hardware Russia is bringing to bear in Syria.
One important issue is who controls this equipment. Are Russian troops acting merely as advisers, demonstrating the operation of these advanced military supplies? Or are Russian soldiers and pilots joining in the battle against Syrian rebel groups, including ISIS? Western analysts are still looking for answers to those questions.