Russia will not deploy combat troops to Syria for now, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised interview Sunday night.
“Russia will not participate in any troop operations in the territory of Syria, or of any other state – well, at least we don’t plan on it right now,” Putin said in an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose.
“But we are considering intensifying our work with both President [Bashar al-] Assad and with partners in other countries.”
Putin, whose comments were translated from Russian, gave the interview before leaving Moscow for New York, where he is due to address the UN General Assembly on Monday.
Putin’s remarks came as Russia has intensified military support for Assad, whose forces have suffered a series of significant setbacks recently in the Syrian civil war.
Nikolay Kozhanov, a fellow at London’s Chatham House policy institute, said Russia currently has at least 20 jet fighters in Syria and an undetermined number of attack helicopters.
He told Anadolu Agency that Russia may have also stationed anti-missile defense systems and surface-to-air missiles at two military bases that are being updated. There are at least 500 Russian military personnel in Syria.
Putin has framed support for the Assad regime, which has been a Russian ally since the Soviet era, as a counter-terrorism operation aiming to stem the threat of returning foreign fighters with groups such as al-Nusra and Daesh.
“More than 2,000 fighters from Russia and ex-Soviet republics are in the territory of Syria,” he told CBS. “There is a threat of their return to us. So instead of waiting for their return, we are better off helping Assad fight them on Syrian territory.
“So this is the most important thing which encourages us and pushes us to provide assistance to Assad. And, in general, we want the situation in the region to stabilize.”
Putin will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday on the sidelines of the UN. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry met Sunday to lay the groundwork for the meeting.
Separately, the Iraqi military announced over the weekend that it had reached an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran, Syria and Russia to help combat Daesh.