Russian Boots on the Ground in Syria?

As Obama prevaricates, Russia has no compunctions about backing its Syrian allies - and seems to even be sending troops to the front lines.

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Ari Soffer,

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Reuters

While the Obama administration continues to prevaricate over its strategy in Syria, it appears Russia is feeling rather less inhibited in its intervention.

The Kremlin has been a staunch ally of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, and has been very open in its support. Moscow has provided invaluable assistance against the rebels seeking to oust the embattled dictator, sending arms, acting as a diplomatic shield (including helping the White House climb down from threats to intervene in 2013) and even sending military advisers to help train and direct Assad's overstretched forces.

But now it seems an increasingly ambitious Russian administration has began deploying boots on the ground, at least in the front line around the Assad regime's strongholds in Latakia, which have in recent months been threatened by an advancing Islamist rebel alliance calling itself the "Army of Conquest."

Evidence of Russian soldiers actively fighting alongside Syrian army and pro-government militia forces was most recently revealed by Daily Beast journalist Michael Weiss, who also pointed to credible reports the Kremlin is preparing to send pilots to carry out bombing mission alongside their Syrian counterparts, targeting both ISIS and Syrian rebels.

Even more intriguingly, in one video released by the pro-regime National Defense Forces militia during clashes with the Army of Conquest - which includes forces from Al Qaeda's Nusra Front - the distinct sound of Russian voices can be heard. At one point it is even possible to make out orders being given, in Russian, apparently to the gunner in a Russian-made BTR-82A fighting vehicle.

Watch: Russian soldiers on Syrian front lines?

He also noted evidence of an increase in shipments of advanced Russian military hardware to Syria, as the regime desperately fights to defend its western heartlands.

Another key Assad ally, Iran, has been deploying its own soldiers to fight alongside Syrian regime forces for some time. But this appears to be the first evidence of Russian soldiers fighting on the front lines, and suggests both the desperate situation of the Assad regime, as well as the growing adventurism of Putin's Russia.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, White House strategists are still deciding which rebels, if any, they want to back.

No wonder then that, despite his tough situation, Assad is so confident.