Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russian Gains in Syria Threatened by Series of Attacks

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Russian Gains in Syria Threatened by Series of Attacks

Article excerpt

By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

MOSCOW | Just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Syria, Russian military outposts in the country have come under rebel attacks that are challenging Moscow's gains.

Russian bases located in Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite heartland had been immune to rebel raids ever since Moscow launched its campaign in Syria in September 2015. But a series of drone attacks and mortar and rocket shelling in recent days has broken the calm.

The incursions have raised doubts both about the sustainability of the Assad government's recent victories and Moscow's ability to protect its assets in the country.

A drone raid on Saturday was unusually massive, involving 13 of the aircraft equipped with satellite navigation and launched from a distance of up to 60 miles away, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. It said seven of the drones were shot down by air defense systems and the remaining six were forced to land.

While the ministry said the attack caused no damage to the Hemeimeem air base in the province of Latakia and the naval outpost in the Syrian port of Tartus, it marked the first time the militants used drones against Russian assets on such a large scale.

Without directly blaming any specific country, the Russian military said the necessary data and capability for the attacks could only have been obtained "from one of the countries that possesses knowhow in satellite navigation" - a statement that appeared to be directed at the United States.

It also noted a "strange coincidence" of a U.S. military intelligence plane flying over the Mediterranean near the two Russian bases at the moment of the attack.

Russian lawmakers skipped decorum, bluntly accusing the U.S. of sponsoring the drone attack. "That action wouldn't have been possible without involvement of American structures," said Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party and a member of the lower house.

Dmitry Sablin, a lawmaker who coordinates parliamentary links with Syria, told the Interfax news agency the attack was even bigger than the Russian military acknowledged, involving 31 drones. …

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