Russian troops are not in Syria, says Syria's ambassador to Moscow

GlobalPost
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (third from left) meets with representatives of the Syrian opposition in Moscow on Aug. 31, 2015.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV

MOSCOW — Talk of a Russian troop presence on the ground in Syria is "a lie", Syrian Ambassador to Moscow Riad Haddad said on Monday, amid accusations from the United States that Moscow is beefing up its military presence there.

Washington said on Monday Russian movement on the ground suggests Moscow wants to create a forward air operating base at an airfield south of Latakia that has been at the center of a recent Russian military buildup in Syria.

Russia has been providing arms to Damascus since Soviet times and Moscow has been the key international ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict that started with street protests in March 2011 and descended into civil war.

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"We have been cooperating with Russia for 30-40 years in various areas, including the military sphere. Yes, we receive arms, military equipment, all this is done in line with agreements sealed between our countries," Haddad was quoted as saying by the ITAR-TASS news agency.

"But the talk of your (Russian) troop presence on Syrian territory is a lie spread by Western countries, the United States," Haddad said of Washington, which wants Assad to go and, along with Gulf countries, backs the opposition in the conflict.

Moscow admits having "military experts" accompanying arms on the ground in Syria, but has not confirmed an increased military presence or stepping up arms supplies to Damascus.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday declined to comment on Latakia.

Haddad said Damascus wanted to hold a third round of consultations between the Syrian government and opposition representatives to prepare for more peace talks under UN auspices.

Intensified high-level diplomacy around Syria in recent weeks has all but failed to yield a breakthrough on the conflict, which has fueled a major wave of migration to Europe.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Janet Lawrence)