Putin: Russia already giving Syria 'quite serious help'
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday it was premature to talk about Russia taking part in military operations against the Islamic State group (IS).
The Russian leader's statement comes as the US said it was checking reports of Russian troops in Syria.
Asked whether Russia could take part in operations against the IS, Putin said: "We are looking at various options but so far what you are talking about is not on the agenda."
"To say we're ready to do this today - so far it's premature to talk about this. But we are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons," the RIA Novosti state news agency quoted Putin as saying.
The White House on Thursday said it was closely monitoring reports that Russia is carrying out military operations in Syria, warning such actions, if confirmed, would be "destabilising and counter-productive".
|We are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons
- Vladimir Putin
The comments come after images appeared on a social media account linked to Syrian fighters purporting to show Russian aircraft and drones near Idlib province.
Further, the official media arm of Syria's National Defence Forces, a part-time reserve component of the Syrian military, broadcast a "news report" from the front line near Latakia in which a Russian speaker was clearly giving instructions to the crew of a Russian-made BTR-82A armoured personnel carrier, The Daily Beast reported.
Igor Sutyagin, an analyst at the UK's Royal United Services Institute specialising in the Russian military, told The Independent that the language was clearly Russian, but it was unclear whether the Russians were soldiers or contractors.
In 2012, Russia's former defence minister, Anatoly Serdukov, said Russia had "military and technical" advisers in Syria. However, it is unclear exactly how active a military role these advisers play.
On 22 August, the Russian landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov, part of Russia's Black Sea fleet, was spotted in the Bosphorus straights, which pass through the Turkish capital Istanbul, on its way to the Mediterranean with cargo stored on deck - including what appears to be several BTR-82A personnel carriers.
Putin said that military supplies to Syria were fulfilling contracts dating back five to seven years.
The BTR-82A entered into service in the Russian army in 2013.
If the Syrian regime is paying for this military equipment from Russia, it will be running down its valuable reserves of foreign currency.
The Israeli news website Ynet reported on Monday that a "Russian expeditionary force" had arrived in Syria and was establishing itself at a regime airbase near Damascus, which "will serve, for all intents and purposes, as a Russian forward operating base".
This information could not be independently verified.
The report indicated that Russian pilots would fly sorties in support of the regime, mainly against the IS group.
Putin, speaking at an international economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok recently, criticised US air raids on IS.
"So far the effectiveness of these airstrikes is low," he said.