(NationalSecurity.news) Russia has sent state-of-the-art Su-35 Flanker air superiority fighters to Syria as part of an effort to bolster its forces there amid rising tensions with Turkey.
As reported by The Associated Press, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenskov said that the fighters were deployed to Hemeimeem air base in Syria, though he did not say how many of the planes were sent. However, Russian media reports noted that four Su-35s were sent and Russian state TV showed them sitting on a tarmac at the air base.
So far, Russian warplanes have flown some 6,000 combat missions in Syria since the Kremlin launched an air campaign mostly against forces hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom with Russia is allied.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have said that the air campaign has been directed against Islamic State fighters but U.S. and NATO officials say most of the Russian air effort has targeted forces opposed to the Syrian regime.
The Russian strikes have helped Assad’s forces take back more ground in recent weeks and they have given Assad a stronger hand as peace talks have gotten underway in Geneva. Reports have said those negotiations are focused on devising a new constitution for Syria and new elections by 2017.
Konashenskov told the AP that Russian warplanes flew 468 combat missions last week. He added that Russian strike aircraft now fly with fighter cover from Russian or Syrian jets.
The Kremlin began adding fighter escorts after Turkish F-16s downed a Russian Su-24 ground attack jet along the Syrian border Nov. 24. Russia’s military said after the downing it would defend its warplanes with fighter escorts and ground-to-air missile batteries at Hemeimeem.
“The downing of the Russian jet was the first time in more than half a century that a NATO member had shot down a Russian plane. The incident badly strained previously close ties between the two countries, with Moscow slamming Turkey with an array of economic sanctions,” the AP reported.
Turkish officials said that Russian warplanes violated the country’s airspace again in recent days, prompting a new warning from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow would have to “endure the consequences” if the violations continued.
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