By Middle East Affairs and Reuters
The Kremlin says it has nothing to do with Russian civilians fighting in Syria but on three recent occasions Reuters reporters saw groups of men flying in from Damascus and traveling to a defense ministry base in Molkino.
The Kremlin website says Molkino – in southwestern Russia – houses the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade.
Reuters called this “rare evidence of a covert Russian mission in Syria beyond the air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops acknowledged by Moscow.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Feb. 14 that it was possible Russians were in Syria but that “they are not part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” Reuters said when reporters asked him why civilians fighting in Syria would return to a military base in Russia, he referred them to the defense ministry, which did not immediately respond.
When asked the same question, Reuters said a duty officer at the 10th special forces brigade responded: “Nobody enters it, as far as I am aware … You’ve seen them, okay. But you should not believe everything … You can maybe. But how can we comment on what other organizations do?”
Sources, including a contractor, have exclusively told Reuters that more than 2,000 Russian contractors are fighting alongside Syrian forces to help President Bashar al-Assad regain territory in the ongoing seven-year civil war.
The sources also said the contractors are transferred by Syrian airline Cham Wings.
Reuters reporters claim they saw “a Syrian Cham Wings charter flight from Damascus land at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don on April 17 and watched groups of men leave the terminal through an exit separate from the one used by ordinary passengers.”
“They boarded three buses, which took them to an area mainly used by airport staff. A luggage carrier brought numerous over-sized bags and the men, dressed in civilian clothes, got off the buses, loaded the bags and got back on.”
“The three buses then left the airport in convoy and headed south; two made stops near cafes along the way and one on the roadside. All three reached the village of Molkino, 350 km (220 miles) south, shortly before midnight.”
“In the village, each bus paused for a minute or two at a checkpoint manned by at least two servicemen, before driving on. About 15-20 minutes later the buses drove back through the checkpoint empty. Publicly available satellite maps show the road leads to the military facility.”
The Reuters reporters say they also saw the buses take men along the same route on March 25 and April 6.