Russian pilots manning combat helicopters in Syria can be seen in videos carrying AK-74 assault rifles with them into the cockpit, likely as a precaution in the event they get shot down by rebels.
That the pilots are equipped with AK-74’s – a refined version of the AK-47 – means that Moscow is at least aware of the risky nature of its intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of President Bashar Assad.
Russian fighter jets have been targeting rebel groups in Syria with air strikes since last week, and yesterday began a Russian-backed air-ground offensive against opposition forces fighting the regime between Hama and Idlib.
“While Russia will certainly inflict damage to the opposition forces on the ground, the success of the ground effort will determine the extent to which the pro-Assad forces are able to push back the opposition,” Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert and researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told BI by email.
“As Russia continues to conduct close air support for the ground forces, they increase the risks to their own forces. It is only a matter of time before we see videos on YouTube of Russian Mi-24 Hind helicopters being shot down.”
And what happens next is anyone’s guess.
“While Russia is projecting military might and success for the time being – in concert with a rapid deployment – the situation is likely to get a lot messier for all of the factions,” Zilberman said.
The video below, uploaded by the propaganda outlet Russia Today, appears to show the soldiers boarding the helicopters with their AK-74’s around the 00:20 mark.