President Barack Obama warned Russia against deepening its support for the embattled government of Syria under President Bashr al-Assad. Russia has sent naval vessels and supplies for naval infantry in support of a naval base at Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. In addition, Russia flew several flights of its Condor military cargo planes to provide humanitarian and military aid to Assad. In response, Obama said on September 11 of the buildup, "The strategy they're pursuing right now of doubling down on Assad is a mistake." He was speaking at a town hall meeting with U.S. troops.

The above photo of Maxim Mazhnikov is dated March 29, 2015, and shows the iconic bridge over the Bosphorus in Turkey.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was dismissive of the Obama doctrine of utilizing drones in pinpoint strikes against the Islamic State militants who have captured a huge swath of Syria and Iraq. While calling on the U.S. and other world powers to address the Islamic State onslaught, Lavrov said "You cannot defeat Islamic State with air strikes only," adding, "It's necessary to cooperate with ground troops and the Syrian army is the most efficient and powerful ground force to fight the IS."

That Russia has troops on the ground is now widely known, since Facebook postings made by Russian soldiers and marines have popped up in recent days.

Above is the page for Maxim Mazhnikov on the VKontakte social networking website.

A Russian investigative reporter, who had also sought to determine the number of Russian military killed in the conflict in Ukraine, found evidence on social media of Russian troops chronicling their journey to Syria. 

 Reporter Ruslan Leviev found, for example, Russian military personnel posting on one of Russia’s main social media websites their selfies as they travelled from the Motherland to Syria. For example, professional soldier Maxim Mazhnikov is seen wearing combat fatigues on social website VKontakte and holding up a sign saying “I love you” in Russia. Forming a backdrop for the photo is the bridge over the Bosphorus strait and linking Asia with Europe. Mazhnikov is a member of the 810th marine infantry brigade, which is now emplaced at a naval facility at Tartus in western Syria.

Above, Maxim Makhnikov is seen later on August 22, 2015, on a Russian naval vessel sailing through the Bosphorus.

Mazkhnikov is seen again in the above photo taken from his profile passing under the Bosphorus bridge in August 2015.

Below is a photo from Mazhnikov’s profile on Odnoklassniki, another Russian social networking site.

Above, Mazhnikov is seen at the naval depot at Tartus.

Reporter Leviev also found selfies of Anatoly Golota, taken at the naval base in Syria. These photos were also posted on September 1 of this year.  For his current status, Golota wrote “Off to Syria.” Young Golota is also a member of the 810th brigade.

Young Anatoly Golata notes that his hometown is Sevastopol, Crimea, and that he has a birthday coming up. Earlier photos posted on his social networking page show him in training, most probably in Russia or Ukraine. 

Leviev theorizes that the increased number of Russian service personnel in Syria indicates a change of approach. The depot at Tartus until 2013 had but four Russians on hand, who were then evacuated. However, the Tartus depot became strategically important for Russia as a staging ground. Professional soldiers are now being deployed to Tartus and for longer hitches ranging from 3 to 8 months. Formerly, there were young draftees being sent to Tartus. Of late, professionals are being deployed. Offering his analysis, Leviev says he believes that the Russian soldiers depicted in the social networking sites have not participated in actual combat. However, he did says that it is becoming apparent that Russia - following the Assad regime's loss of Idlib and Jisr al-Shugra this spring - is anxious that Latakia should remain secure. It is from Latakia that Russia can launch UAVs and, eventually, both fixed-wing and rotary military aircraft. 

That the Russians are serious about keeping Latakia within their orbit can be seen in the video:

The above is a screenshot from the video which shows a Russian-made BTR-82A armored personnel carrier firing a 30 mm automatic cannon at Islamic State positions. At 2:04 and 2:15 can be heard orders being issued in Russian. The fighting took place recently near Latakia. This APC had not been seen before in Syria, and was painted in a color more appropriate for more northerly climes. The question as to whether or not Russians have engaged in combat with Islamic State militants has yet to be answered.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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