Russia has sent special forces in recent days to fight alongside Syrian army troops struggling to make gains in a more than two-month assault in north western Syria to seize the last opposition bastion, said Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) coalition of rebel factions.
They said although Russian officers and troops had been behind front lines directing the operations, using snipers and firing anti-tank missiles, this was the first time Moscow had sent ground troops on the battlefield in the campaign that began at the end of April.
Russian ground forces entered the battle with government forces to seize the strategic Humaymat hilltops in northern Hama that fell into rebel hands last week, regaining it after previous successive attempts by the army failed.
More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Russia and its ally President Bashar al Assad.
It is a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone in Russia’s favour since it intervened in 2015.