U.S. 'Closely' Monitoring Reports of Russian Troops in Syria

The White House is closely monitoring claims that Russia is preparing a military intervention in support of Bashar Assad's regime in Syria, after Israeli and U.K. media published apparent evidence of Russian servicemen and equipment in the country.

"We are aware of reports that Russia may have deployed military personnel and aircraft to Syria, and we are monitoring those reports quite closely," White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told AFP." Any military support to the Assad regime for any purpose, whether it's in the form of military personnel, aircraft supplies, weapons, or funding, is both destabilizing and counterproductive," he added.

Social media accounts close to Syrian militant, Al-Qaeda affiliated group the Al-Nusra Front also posted images of what they purported to be a Russian Su-34 fighter in flight over Syria.

Another U.S. official told AFP that Russia had asked for "clearances for military flight to Syria" but added "we don't know what their goals are." However, he went on to say that the evidence used in the recent reports, which suggested heightened Russian armed activity in Syria, was "inconclusive".

Earlier this week Israeli newspaper Ynet published a piece citing "Western diplomatic sources" who said that Russia had already sent an expeditionary force to Syria, with plans to send "thousands of Russian military personnel" within weeks.

Meanwhile U.K. newspaper The Times reported on a three minute video broadcast on Syrian television in which appeared to show militias loyal to Assad standing next to Russian BTR armored vehicles, while a voice shouting commands in Russian can be heard offscreen.

Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has urged people not to "believe these reports," denying that Russia is planning to send troops to Syria and adding that Moscow's technical cooperation for Assad continues. "Russia maintains [military-technical] cooperation with Syria and supports it. This is a consistent process," Peskov said.

However, the head of Russia's Airborne Troops sent different signals on the matter earlier in August, when he told Russian state news agency Itar-Tass that his men are ready to assist Syria in countering terrorism. He did highlight that the country's leadership would first have to take a decision to send troops, however.