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Russia says military supplies to Syria are nothing new

Bulgaria agrees to let Russian planes use airspace if Moscow submits to inspections; Greece says US asked it to block aircraft

Illustrative photo of a Russian MiG-29 such as those used by the Syrian Air Force. (CC-BY-SA/Krasimir Grozev/Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative photo of a Russian MiG-29 such as those used by the Syrian Air Force. (CC-BY-SA/Krasimir Grozev/Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has accused the West of creating “strange hysteria” over Russian activities in Syria, saying that Moscow has been openly supplying weapons and sending military specialists to Syria for a long time.

The US has expressed concern about signs of a Russian military build-up in Syria, including possible preparations for sending in troops. On Tuesday, US broadcaster CBS news said it had seen three jumbo jets filled with Russian military equipment and personnel land near the Syrian port city of Latakia.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zhakarova told journalists Wednesday that “Russia has never made a secret of its military-technical cooperation with Syria.” And she could “confirm and repeat once again that Russian military specialists are in Syria to help them master the weapons being supplied.”

President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials also have confirmed in recent days that Russia has military experts in Syria to train its military on how to use Russian-supplied weapons.

The comments came after NATO and EU member Bulgaria said it could allow Syria-bound Russian planes to cross its airspace if Moscow permits it to inspect the cargo, following concerns they could be carrying weapons for the Syrian regime.

“If our Russian colleagues agree for their flights to be inspected at a Bulgarian airport, we will grant them a permit,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov told journalists.

His remarks came a day after Bulgaria confirmed it had refused permission to an unspecified number of Russian aircraft to cross its airspace last week, angering Moscow.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia to Mitov’s remarks.

Moscow had on Tuesday demanded answers from Bulgaria and Athens, suggesting both countries had denied permission for Russian planes to use its airspace.

But although Greece confirmed receiving a request from Washington to bar two Russian planes from crossing its airspace between September 1 and 24, it said Moscow had later decided to use an alternative route.

Washington has expressed concern following reports suggesting Moscow may be boosting military support to Syrian President Bashar Assad and had sent a military advance team to the war-torn country.

On Wednesday, Athens denied any rift with Moscow over the matter, with the Foreign Ministry saying that “no displeasure or any other negative comment has been expressed from anyone.”

Mitov said the European Council had imposed restrictions on the supply of certain goods and services to Syria, which every EU member state was “obliged to implement.”

“We had enough information to give us reasons to believe that there is a discrepancy between the declared purpose of the flights and the real delivery, meaning that we would not issue a permit,” he added.

Using Bulgarian and Greek airspace allows Russian planes to bypass Turkey and Iran on their way to Syria.

In 2012, Turkish warplanes forced a Damascus-bound passenger plane from Moscow to land and searched it on suspicion it was carrying equipment that breached civil aviation rules.

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