The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal.
Dion Nissenbaum1 hr ago
WASHINGTON—Russian forces appear to be expanding their military presence in Syria through the development of two additional bases, according to new satellite imagery viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The expansion near the Mediterranean coast is the latest sign Russia is preparing to inject its military forces into the country’s 4½-year war, creating new challenges for the U.S.-led coalition trying to force President Bashar al-Assad from power and defeat Islamic State militants.
Until recently, the Russian buildup in Syria was largely focused on an air base south of the port city of Latakia. Moscow has shipped more than two dozen combat aircraft to the airfield, where Russian surveillance drones have started flying, according to U.S. defense officials. Russia has also sent tanks, air-defense systems, armored-personnel carriers and enough housing for 2,000 people, officials have said.
Now, satellite images from IHS Jane’s, a defense-intelligence provider, show an additional, previously undisclosed, Russian military expansion.
The images from mid-September show development of a weapons depot and military facility north of Latakia, suggesting that Russia is preparing to place troops in both places, according to Robert Munks, editor of IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review.
© Metzel Mikhail/Zuma Press
The images, which Jane’s acquired from a commercial satellite division of Airbus Group, show construction of new buildings, the presence of new tents typically used by Russian military units and significant development of the grounds, Mr. Munks said.
Russia’s muscular military expansion poses a new challenge for the Obama administration as it tries to revamp its Middle East strategy.
U.S. officials have criticized Russia for the military buildup, which Moscow’s leaders have characterized as preparations to help the Syrian regime, according to a senior defense official.
Secretary of State John Kerry has taken the lead in pressing Moscow to play a constructive role in Syria, while Defense Secretary Ash Carter has launched preliminary talks meant to ensure that American and Russian forces don’t clash in the skies above Syria.
Russia has shown little indication it is prepared to work with the U.S. in battling Islamic State in Syria. Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s most important allies, has major strategic interests in Syria. Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base is in the port city of Tartus, about 60 miles south of Latakia.
Many believe the Syrian president would try to take refuge in Latakia, a political stronghold for Mr. Assad and his minority Alawite sect, if the capital Damascus fell to regime opponents.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help ensure their militaries don’t have any accidental confrontations in the region.
On Tuesday, David Petraeus, the retired U.S. general and former Central Intelligence Agency director, told U.S. senators that Mr. Putin’s intentions appear clear. “Clearly he would like to shore up his ally, Bashar al-Assad,” Mr. Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee.