DAMASCUS – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed concerns about Russian military buildup in Syria.
Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that reports of growing Russian military activity were a “source of concern”, and “unhelpful” when it came to finding a political solution.
“I am concerned about reports about the increased Russian military presence in Syria,” Stoltenberg told reporters during a visit to Prague.
“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.”
On Tuesday, White House officials warned that a Russian military buildup in Syria could lead to confrontations with U.S.-led forces conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State group (ISIS).
“We’ve indicated that the United States is concerned by reports that Russia may have deployed additional military personnel and aircraft to Syria,” said Josh Earnest, a spokesman for the White House.
“These steps could lead to greater loss of life, they could increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the counter-ISIL (ISIS) coalition that’s operating inside of Syria,” he said.
In the meantime, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi denied reports of a Russian military buildup in his country.
“The reports were concocted in Western intelligence circles in order to show the army was too weak without help from its foreign ally,” al-Zoubi told Lebanese al-Manar TV on Tuesday.
“There are no Russian forces and there is no Russian military action on Syrian territory neither by land, by sea or by air,” he said.
“All of this is to insinuate the Syrian state is weak and that the Syrian military has weakened to the point of resorting to the aid of friends in a direct manner,” al-Zoubi added. “This is one of the most difficult types of wars because many countries and intelligence quarters are intervening with open-ended funds and lots of foreign terrorists.””
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had always provided military supplies to Syria.
“Russia has never concealed that it delivers military equipment to official Syrian authorities with the aim of combating terrorism,” said Lavrov.
According to reports based on Syrian sources, a growing number of Russian troops has been witnessed recently at a new military base in the Syrian coastal region of Latakia.
Reporting by: Laila Majdalawi
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