Kremlin says would 'discuss' any Syrian request to send troops
Moscow said Friday it would consider any request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send troops, as Washington frets over an alleged Russian military buildup in the war-torn country.
"If there is any request then it would naturally be discussed and evaluated through bilateral contacts and dialogue," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
"But it is difficult to talk about this hypothetically."
The United States says that Russia -- one of Assad's last remaining allies -- has covertly deployed troops, artillery units and tanks to Syria.
Moscow says it is sending arms to Syria under existing contracts but denies bolstering its forces in the country.
Putin has provided vital support to Assad throughout a popular uprising against his regime and as the conflict has metastasised into a brutal civil war that has killed 240,000 people and displaced four million.
US officials have expressed fears Russia may strike Western-backed rebel groups battling Assad and ultimately risk a confrontation with forces fighting the Islamic State (IS) group.
Moscow has been pushing for a broader coalition of forces to take on IS, but key Western and regional players have ruled out fighting alongside Assad.
Russian news website Gazeta.ru reported on Friday that some Russian soldiers were disputing possible orders to be sent to Syria.
- Putin's Syria plan -
The outlet quoted a soldier named Alexei as saying that troops had been deployed to a southern Russian port city without being told where they would be shipped to and were expecting to be deployed to Syria on only a verbal order.
Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin has no knowledge of complaints by soldiers to its human rights council, and the Russia's eastern military district, where the soldier is reportedly based, denied any overseas deployment.
"Moving of military units... is done strictly as planned and only within the eastern military district," said a statement by the district's press service.
Some worried family members are already contacting rights groups, however, said Valentina Melnikova, who campaigns for rights of soldiers.
"We were contacted by relatives of officers, professional soldiers, who were sent away on a train with their travel passports towards the south, and weren't told about their destination," she told the Echo of Moscow radio.
"Relatives were afraid that they are being sent to Ukraine or Syria."
Russia and the West are currently locked in their worst standoff since the Cold War over the crisis in Ukraine.
The US and the EU have slapped sanctions on Moscow its meddling in its ex-Soviet neighbour that -- along with a fall in oil prices -- have damaged the Russian economy.
Western diplomats say Putin may now be trying to come in from the cold by exploiting the West's desire to end Syria's bloody conflict that has prompted a stream of refugees to Europe.
The Russian leader is expected to use his speech at the United Nations General Assembly later this month to push for a diplomatic solution to the conflict that allows Russia to retain its bulwark of influence in the Middle East.
© 2015 AFP