Russia paratroop chief says
force willing to fight in Syria

Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov's comments come after Washington announced air cover for US-trained rebels in Syria.

Russian Airborne Troops. (AFP/RIA Novosti/Vladimir Rodionov)

BEIRUT – The head of Russia’s elite Airborne Troops has indicated his willingness to deploy his force to Syria for counter terror missions, days after Moscow blasted Washington’s decision to provide air cover for US-trained rebels.


When asked by a Syrian reporter if Russian Airborne Troops would assist the Assad regime, Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov responded that “we will execute the decisions set forth by the country’s leadership, if there is a task at hand.”


He also highlighted the close military ties between Moscow and Damascus, according to a report published late Tuesday by Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency.


Hours after Shamanov’s comments, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary denied that Damascus has asked Russia to send troops to fight ISIS.


“No, this isn’t being discussed in any way. This issue isn’t on the agenda,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.


The comments by the Russian Airborne Troops commander come as Moscow has been working to broker a quadripartite anti-ISIS alliance that would bring together Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan.


Regional diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict have picked up in recent days, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US holding a trilateral talk on the issue Monday in Qatar.


Just as talks have gathered pace, both Turkey and the US dramatically expanded their military roles in Syria.


Turkey two weeks ago directly entered the conflict in Syria with bombing raids on ISIS as it seeks, with US assistance, to create a “safe zone” that would clear ISIS away from Syria’s border with Turkey.


Washington, in turn, on July 31 officially authorized its military to conduct airstrikes against any force threatening US-trained rebels entering the conflict in northern Syria.


In a press conference Monday, US White House press secretary Josh Earnest further warned Damascus not to “interfere” with US-trained rebels, and threatened “additional steps” if the Syrian regime took any action against them.


Russia’s foreign minister shot back at the Washington statement, calling it “counterproductive.”


“It's counterproductive to announce publicly that some US-trained armed groups... will be under the protection of the coalition's air forces,” Sergei Lavrov said Monday. 

Russian Airborne Troops chief Vladimir Shamanov (C) speaks with young paratroopers. (AFP/RIA Novosti/Vladimir Rodionov)

No, this isn’t being discussed in any way. This issue isn’t on the agenda.