American officials have disclosed that Russia is using the airspace over Iran and Iraq to fly military equipment and personnel to a new air field in Syria, escalating tensions with the US, a report says. At least seven giant Russian Antonov An-124 military transport aircrafts have taken off from a base in Russia during the past week to transport equipment to Syria, using Iranian and Iraqi air corridors, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing US officials.
American officials told the newspaper on Sunday that the destination of the Russian aircraft was an airfield in Syria’s western province of Latakia. About 200 Russian marines and six Russian howitzers now guard the air base in Latakia, according to American intelligence. With the use of the new air corridors, Moscow is openly defying Washington’s efforts to block the shipments and significantly increasing tensions with the US.
The White House initially hoped it had blocked the Russian effort to move military equipment and personnel into Syria after NATO member Bulgaria announced it would refuse permission for the flights. But Russia quickly began rerouting its flights to Iran and Iraq, which Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on Sunday would continue despite US objections. “There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.”
Lavrov added that Moscow would continue arming the Syrian government in its fight against the Takfiri Daesh terrorists, urging other countries to take a similar stance and help Damascus in the battle. The Obama administration has warned Moscow to limit the transport of military equipment to Syria. On Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called Lavrov and warned that Washington is deeply concerned of reports of "an imminent enhanced Russian military buildup." The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine have driven a wedge between Russia and the West. Moscow and Washington have had major differences over the crisis in Syria as well as in Ukraine.
Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since March 2011. According to reports, the United States and its regional allies - especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey - are supporting the militants operating inside the country. The Daesh terrorists, who were initially trained by the CIA in Jordan in 2012 to destabilize the Syrian government, now control large parts of Iraq and Syria.