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Russia Troops In Syria? Report Claims Military Unit Arrives At Syrian Port

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) receives Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) during their meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, January 25, 2005. Russia and Syria have reached a deal on restructuring debt owed by Syria left over from the Soviet era, the Syrian and Russian presidents announced after Kremlin talks. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) receives Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) during their meeting in Moscow's Kremlin, January 25, 2005. Russia and Syria have reached a deal on restructuring debt owed by Syria left over from the Soviet era, the Syrian and Russian presidents announced after Kremlin talks. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images)

According to ABC News, Russian news reports claim that an Iman tanker carrying an "anti-terror squad" from the Russian Marines has arrived in Syria.

Al Arabiya writes that DEBKAfile, an open-source military intelligence website based in Israel, has reported that two Russian ships have arrived in Syria's port of Tartus.

However, ABC also points out that Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has denied the reports.

From the Associated Press:

The [Russian defense] ministry said Monday that the navy's Iman oil tanker arrived at Tartus 10 days ago on a mission to assist Russian navy ships on anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

The ministry says the tanker is carrying a civilian crew and a team of servicemen protecting it. A ministry spokesman wouldn't say how many troops are on board.

Max Fisher from The Atlantic Wire notes that the arrival of Russian troops in Syria would make intervention in the country "impossible":


Max Fisher
If Russian boots are in Syria, any kind of intervention will be impossible. Risk of inadvertent conflict w/ Russia too high. Maybe the point

President Bashar Assad's regime has carried out a brutal crackdown on the uprising that began in Syria last March. The UN estimates that 8,000 people have been killed in the past year.

Russia has vetoed draft resolutions on Syria at the United Nations and remained one of Syria's key allies.

Reuters reported on Monday that Syria's arms imports surged nearly 6-fold between 2007 and 2011. According to a report released by the Stockhold International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia reportedly supplied 78% of Syrian imports, followed by Belarus and Iran. However, El Pais notes that despite the increase, total arms imports in Syria were not much greater than those to Jordan -- a country of 6 million people compared to Syria's population of 20 million.