US president describes Moscow’s strategy of supplying weapons and military equipment to Syria as “a big mistake”.
Russian military cargo planes have landed in the Syrian city of Latakia, Russia’s defence ministry says, as Syria’s main opposition group blasted Moscow over its military presence in the country.
Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday the supplies were sent to set up a tent camp for more than 1,000 refugees and included beds, mattresses, stoves, water cisterns and food.
Syrian state media confirmed that two Russian planes carrying humanitarian aid had arrived in the coastal city.
US President Barack Obama on Friday expressed concern about Russia’s increased military activity in Syria, particularly at an air base near Latakia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia is airlifting weapons to Syria, a longtime ally, and Russian troops are training the Syrian army on how to use them.
On Saturday the Syrian National Coalition condemned what it called “direct Russian military intervention,” describing such a step as “hostile behaviour”.
The coalition’s statement said the Russian intervention put Moscow in a position that is “hostile to the Syrian people and turns its forces in Syria to occupation forces”.
Russia has been a longtime backer of Syria’s government, and it has supported Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the civil war by shielding him from UN sanctions and providing weapons.
It also appears eager to send a broader message that Moscow remains loyal to its allies and strongly resents forceful change of regimes through foreign interference.
“The direct Russian military intervention will not lead to the regime’s rescue, give it legitimacy or rehabilitate it,” the coalition said in a statement. It added that the Russian intervention will “lead to more killing, destruction and displacement”.
Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus close to the Syrian coast, the government confirmed that Russian authorities have informed it of live-fire naval exercises to be conducted off Syria.
An official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to publicly discuss military matters told the Associated Press on Saturday that such exercises were “routine” and occurred every couple of months.
The official said they would not affect civilian air traffic. It was not known when the exercises would take place.