Russia used its satellites to help the Syrian government fight growing insurgency in the country, pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported.
Russian officials provided the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with satellite photos showing the location of the bases and main forces of the Free Syrian Army, the most prominent militant rebel group, the London-based newspaper said on Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov traveled to Damascus for talks with al-Assad on Tuesday. He was accompanied by Mikhail Fradkov, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, who allegedly handed over the maps to Syrian government, the report said.
Asharq Al-Awsat cited unidentified sources in al-Assad’s government, but also said the information “was not fully confirmed.” Neither Foreign Ministry in Moscow nor Fradkov’s agency commented on the story as of Wednesday afternoon.
Free Syrian Army emerged as the main organized force combating al-Assad’s government in the bloody uprising in Syria that claimed at least 5,000 lives since March 2011. The group is allegedly comprised primarily of army defectors and reported its ranks to be 20,000.
Russia is the main international backer of al-Assad’s regime, having blocked two resolutions targeting it in the UN Security Council and supplied it with arms. Russian warships also called at the Syrian port of Tartus in January.
Al-Assad’s forces have stepped up their assault on insurgents in recent weeks, using artillery to bombard the city of Homs, a hotbed of protests, media reported, citing Syrian opposition activists who said several hundreds were killed in the attack. The pro-government Syrian news agency SANA blamed the clashes on attacks by unspecified terrorist groups.
Al-Assad is following a classic anti-insurgency tactic, trying to rout rebels from cities into the countryside, where a full-scale assault can be launched using heavy weaponry, said Yevgeny Satanovsky, head of the Middle East Institute think-tank.
This tactic already worked for the Algerian government, which defeated its own insurgency during the civil war in 1991-2002, Satanovsky said by telephone.