Thursday, 12 May 2016

Russia's military in Syria: Bigger than you think and not going anywhere!!

Russia's military in Syria: Bigger than you think and not going anywhere

Story highlights

  • CNN traveled with Russian troops in Syria
  • The trip demonstrates Moscow's military muscle in the country
(CNN)Last week the Russian military
brought more than a hundred
international journalists, including our 
CNN crew, to Palmyra. The trip was
orchestrated to showcase Moscow's
role in liberating the ancient heritage
site but it also said a lot about the Russian army's capabilities and the scale
of their assets in Syria.
Ferrying that many people from Russia's air base in Latakia halfway across
a war-torn country -- to a place that until recently was a combat zone -- is a
massive logistical and security operation.
Russia's military presence in Syria
Russia's military presence in Syria 02:07
The convoy involved five buses full
of journalists, at least eight armored
vehicles with heavy machine guns,
two fighting vehicles and the constant
presence of two attack helicopters
hovering overhead. During the more
than six-hour journey, choppers were
switched out several times and the
vehicles were shadowed by a variety
of gunships, including Mi-28, KA-52,
and the modernized Mi-35s. As we
made our way across Syria we passed several bases with Russian helicopters
along the Western coastline, near Homs and in the Palmyra area.
CNN travels with Russian troops inside Syria
CNN travels with Russian troops inside Syria 01:55
Russia deployed dozens of strike 
aircraft and jet fighters to Syria at the
end of 2015, bombing in support of
Syrian president Bashar al Assad's
forces. But Moscow also appears to
have built up substantial ground forces
in various locations in Syria. There are
no reliable numbers on Russian troop
levels in the country but it appeared to
us that there were at least several
thousand troops on the ground along
with modern weaponry and infrastructure.
The Hmeymim air base on the outskirts of Latakia, on the country's northwest
coast, is a mix of an existing Syrian military airfield and container housing
units that the Russians have set up. The camp is large, modern, and
The Russian military allowed us to film some of their troops during an early
morning sports session that involved weight training, basketball, volleyball
and boxing. A young first lieutenant who would only give his first name,
"Vladimir," said the troops are highly motivated. "I am very happy to serve 
my country here," he said. He then added, "I am not afraid of anything in 
Syria. Why would we be afraid?"
The professionalism of the troops and the pristine state of the equipment
they were using showed the Russian military has come a long way since it
began a major modernization program several years ago. Aside from dozens
of jets, Russia also has a wide range of combat helicopters, main battle tanks,
armored personnel carriers and surface-to-air missile systems.
But aside from mine-clearing equipment, there also are dozens of fighting
vehicles and armored personnel carriers stationed at the base. While those
assets could be there for force protection, Russia has also deployed a
state-of-the-art Pantsir-S1 air defense system that can both launch missiles
and fire cannons at incoming planes.The Russian military has told CNN that
their air force chooses and pinpoint targets on their own, with only limited
input from the Syrian military. Igor Konashankov, the spokesman for Russia's 
Defense Ministry, also says Moscow has no influence over the targets the 
Syrian Air Force hits.
The U.S. has said Russia is moving artillery toward the contested city of
Aleppo, raising concerns that a ceasefire will not hold. But the Russians 
have not confirmed that. If Assad were to retake all of Aleppo, it would be 
a major victory.
As for the ceasefire in Aleppo, it has been extended for another 48 hours,
according to Syria's state news agency, SANA. The announcement Monday
was made by the country's head of the armed forced. While the exact size 
of Russia's military presence in Syria is still unclear, the things we saw while 
embedded with them indicate that it is bigger and more sophisticated than 
most believe. It does not look like an army that plans on leaving Syria 
any time soon.

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