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WASHINGTON – Russian Defense Ministry officials say troops are being readied for deployment “outside the borders of Russia, possibly in Syria,” according to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.
The ministry sources even have gone so far as to identify the units for deployment: the 76th Pskov airborne division, the 15th army brigade from Samara and a GRU Special Forces unit from the South Military District.
Reinforcing this prospect was a comment by Nikolai Bordyuzgha, secretary general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, that a CSTO military force would be sent to Syria for “peace enforcement” and to suppress Syrian opposition forces.
Russia is known to have serious naval equities in Syria, particularly at the port cities of Tartous and Latakia.
The CSTO is made up of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – all countries that formed part of the former Soviet Union.
However, the former Soviet republics may be leery of undertaking military activities outside their region, in addition to the fact that Russia itself has limited means of power projection outside the region. As the Washington-based think-tank Jamestown Foundation’s Pavel Felgenhauer points out, Russia’s power projection capabilities are limited in naval and air power.
For that reason, Moscow may withdraw its Special Forces troops from the North Caucasus, especially Chechnya, where Russian security forces are engaging Islamic fundamentalists who want to set up a Caucasus Emirates and separate completely from Russia.
The best the Kremlin can do at this point is provide these brigades to back the Assad regime or be part of a multilateral political peacekeeping force, if something is worked out between the Russians and the West.
There are reports that two Russian ships, one of which was turned back, are thought to have Russian troops on them in addition to arms for the Assad regime.
Felgenhauer suggests, however, that the mention of sending Russian troops to bolster the Assad regime may be part of a “deliberate deception” to divert attention from a troop deployment to another destination – possibly Georgia.
As G2Bulletin recently reported, high-level Russian military officials were concerned with Georgia’s block of a land corridor from Russia through Georgia to allow the Russian military to supply its base in Armenia.
That base would be set to assist Iran should either Israel or the United States, or both, decide to launch attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Because of increased hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan in recent days, the land corridor through Georgia to supply the Armenian base was closed. It now is supplied by air.
With Vladimir Putin’s return to the Russian presidency, there is no love lost between him and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Putin’s concern is that Georgia could allow the U.S. to set up a base for operations against Iran.
Also, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to Georgia irked the Kremlin, because she reinforced the notion of U.S. assistance to the country, in addition to the U.S. continuing to push for Georgian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
For the Russians, however, handling events in the North Caucasus are more in keeping with their vital interests than Syria.
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