Three serving or former Russian soldiers have been geolocated by photographs in Syria, including locations near Hama, Aleppo and Homs, Russian bloggers said on Sunday, suggesting the Kremlin's operation stretches well beyond its air campaign.
Russia first launched air strikes to support President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's four-year civil war on Sept. 30 but has repeatedly said it has no intention of mounting a ground operation.
It has instead said it will limit its help to military trainers, advisers and deliveries of military equipment.
U.S. security officials and independent experts told Reuters last week that Moscow had increased its forces in Syria to 4,000 personnel from an estimated 2,000. A U.S. defense official said multiple rocket-launcher crews and long-range artillery batteries were deployed outside four bases the Russians were using.
Sunday's report by Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of Russian investigative bloggers, said that photos on social media had been used to geolocate three Russian serving or former soldiers in Syria.
"Although we still don't have indisputable evidence of Russian servicemen taking a direct part in the fighting on the ground in Syria, we believe the situation observed contradicts the claims of Russian officials that Russian troops are not taking part and are not planning to take part in ground operations,” CIT said.