There was confusion coming out of the Kremlin on Tuesday regarding Russia sending paratroopers to help the Assad regime in Syria, a longtime client state of Moscow. Russian news agency TASS initially reported that the commander of Russian airborne forces, Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov, when asked by a Syrian reporter about Russia sending troops to help the Assad regime battle Islamic extremists, said, “Of course we will execute the decisions set forth by the country’s leadership, if there is a task at hand.” He noted the close connection between the Russian and Syrian military, “Many Syrian experts, including military, received education in the Soviet Union and in Russia.” This comment ignited a firestorm in the media that Russia was prepared to insert ground troops into the Syrian civil war.
A later report by TASS tried to walk back this statement by highlighting the comments of Dmitri Peskov, Mr. Putin’s press secretary, when asked about the commander’s statements, “No, this issue [sending of Russian troops to Syria] has never been discussed in any way. This issue is out of the agenda.” Mr. Peskov was also asked if Syria had requested troops, to which he responded, “No, this issue has never been raised.” Mr. Peskov has been under fire in the Russian opposition media over the last several days over his lavish wedding that was held in Sochi.
Mr. Peskov was also asked about Russia aircraft being introduced in the conflict to assist the Assad regime. “This issue is not looked at now,” he said. “I have no other information,” he responded.