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Kerry: Russia’s military build-up in Syria is self-protection

September 23, 2015 at 11:34 am

US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday dismissed claims that Russia is arming itself to fight in Syria, saying that “the Russian weapons in Latakia airport on the Syrian coast are consistent with protecting their own forces.” Kerry also reiterated his call on Moscow to participate in efforts to end the Syrian crisis.

Following a joint press conference with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj, Kerry told the press that “Russian planes sent to an air base in Syria are there for basic force protection, intended to protect Russian soldiers and assets already on the ground.”

“For the moment, it is the judgement of our military and experts that the level and type represents basically force protection,” he added, although he did caveat this by saying that depending on Russia’s long-term decisions, the presence of Russian aircraft in Syria could raise some questions about Moscow’s intentions.

Kerry called on Russia to assist in ongoing diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian crisis, saying that “if Russia is there to shore up [Bashar Al-]Assad and to certainly provide Assad with the continued sense he doesn’t have to negotiate, then I think it’s a problem for Syria, and it’s a problem for everybody who wants to bring an end to this conflict, which has gone on for too long.”

On his part, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said that “the nature and calibre of the equipment and weapons, including the aircraft we see at the air base Kerry talked about, is to protect their forces at the air base,” noting that “what is inside the air base and how it is working remains unknown.”

American media outlets have circulated a satellite picture that is believed to be of Russian aircraft inside Latakia airport on the cost of the Mediterranean Sea. Media reports have quoted senior American officials saying that Russia sent fighter jets and tanks, as well as a number of troops to Syria.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that Defence Secretary Ashton Carter will continue his talks on Syria with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, if Moscow’s measures aim to combat Daesh and promote a diplomatic solution to the crisis in the country. Cook also stressed that any measures that do not serve either of these two purposes will not be addressed.

Carter discussed the Syrian crisis during a phone call with his Russian counterpart on Friday for the first time in over a year, and they agreed to hold more discussions to find mechanisms to “avoid clashes” in Syria and to combat Daesh.