Western countries backing the Syrian opposition were apparently caught unawares when news emerged in September of an unprecedented Russian military build-up in the country’s coastal region. Moscow had sent supplies, including T-90 tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and advisers to an airbase south of Latakia in what was described by one American defence official as the largest military deployment outside Russia’s territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The military assistance has led to speculation about its exact purpose. There are three possible scenarios for the move, which comes after General Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander who oversees Iran’s foreign military activities, visited Moscow in July for talks with Vladimir Putin.
One aim could be to deter the United States and its western allies from establishing a no-fly zone in northern Syria.