Report: Russia Sends Troops to Front Line of Idlib Offensive
Russia has reportedly dispatched special forces to the front line of an ongoing Syrian regime offensive in the northwestern Idlib Province, the last major opposition bastion mainly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaida-linked group. In response, the Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday released a statement categorically denying the claim. If true, however, it would mark the first time that Moscow has deployed ground troops to partake in the three-month-long assault, which has killed hundreds, if not thousands, and displaced an estimated 300,000, thereby raising fears of another humanitarian crisis. The offensive has also angered Turkey, which maintains a strong military presence on the Syrian side of a shared border through its National Liberation Front proxy. Accordingly, analysts believe there is a risk of a direct clash between the parties foremost involved in the conflict, which could lead to its spiraling out of control again and further dampening the prospect of forging a peace agreement (read “détente”) to end eight-plus years of carnage. Russia has conducted some 200 bombing missions during the controversial Idlib campaign, with Syrian soldiers unable to make any major advances.