More than 40 Syrian insurgent groups have vowed to attack Russian forces in retaliation for Moscow’s air campaign, in a show of unity among the usually fragmented rebels against what they called the “occupiers” of Syria.
The 41 Syrian rebel groups, which included powerful factions such as Ahrar al-Sham, Islam Army and the Levant Front, said Russia had joined the war in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were on the verge “of a crushing defeat”.
The insurgents’ warning came as the chairman of Russia’s parliamentary defense committee suggested that Russian “volunteer” units could join with forces fighting for Assad.
Vladimir Komoyedov, the former commander of the Black Sea fleet, told the Interfax news agency that Russians who had previously fought alongside rebels in eastern Ukraine “can’t be stopped” from going to fight for the Assad regime.
“A unit of Russian volunteers, conflict veterans, will probably appear in the ranks of the Syrian army,” Komoyedov said. “What brings volunteers there besides the cause? Of course, it’s probably money.”
Russia launched its air campaign on Wednesday and claims it is targeting the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front. But many of the strikes appear to have hit western-backed rebel factions.
The Russian attacks have largely focused on the north-western and central provinces – the gateways to the heartland of Assad’s power base in the capital, Damascus – and on the Mediterranean coast.