Russia said Friday it would consider sending its troops into Syria if President Bashar Assad asked for assistance, according to Bloomberg. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that while a request had not yet been made, the Russian government would treat it seriously if Syria asked.
“If there is a request, it will be discussed as part of bilateral contacts,” said Peskov. “Of course it will be discussed and considered.”
Russia has supported the Assad regime but has tried to play down this support in recent weeks. The U.S. has accused Russia of sending military equipment and advisers to Syria as well as working to set up an airbase near the city of Latakia.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Thursday that he would not confirm or deny the presence of Russian personnel and equipment on the ground in Latakia.
“Up until now, there [has been] no joint fight on the ground with Russian forces, but if we sense the need for it, we will consider and ask,” said Muallem to news agency SANA.
The comment comes at a moment of increased tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russian actions in both Syria and Ukraine. U.S. military branches have said they would factor Russia into their military budgets for 2017, and military officials have described Russia as a threat to the U.S.
In a television broadcast Thursday, Muallem said he believed the Syrian army was capable but needed “more ammunition and qualitative weapons to face the qualitative armament of terrorist groups,” according to Al-Arabiya.
Russian news site Gazeta.ru reported Friday that some Russian troops have already begun speaking out against being sent to Syria, remarking that it could turn out to be like the conflict in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, which has taken the lives of over 7,000 people.
The war in Syria began in 2011 and has taken the lives of over 200,000 people and displaced millions. Many refugees fleeing the war have now arrived in Europe as countries attempt to deal with the large influx. If Russia were to send troops into Syria, it would make a sharp escalation of the government’s involvement in the conflict.