The United States has expressed concerns over reports Moscow is building a military base in Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s stronghold.
Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday to warn that any move by Russia to expand its role in the country’s civil war will ratchet up tensions and increase the flow of refugees.
“The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria,” the US State Department said.
Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov agreed that discussions on Syria would continue in New York later this month, it added.
Quoting Obama-administration sources, the New York Times said Russia has sent a military advance team and a portable air traffic control station to Syria.
It also sent enough prefabricated housing units for 1,000 troops to the airfield that serves Latakia, Syria’s largest port.
Russia has also requested the right to fly over neighbouring countries with military cargo aircraft during September, the paper added.
So far Russia’s backing for Mr Assad has included financial support, advisers and weapons, but not military forces.
Videos emerged last week apparently showing a Russian fighter jet over Syria and combat troops speaking Russian.
The US and Russia have been at loggerheads over the Syrian war, with Moscow and Iran supporting President Assad and Washington calling for a political transition to end his rule.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Mr Assad is ready to hold snap elections and could share power with a “healthy” opposition.
Last month, Mr Lavrov said America should co-operate with Mr Assad to fight Islamic State forces who have captured large areas of Syria and Iraq.
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