Russia now blames Turkey for drone attacks, not US
The Russian military announced on Jan. 10 that Turkish-backed rebels attacked its Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility in Syria over the weekend with 13 drones.
"The recent drone attack on Russian bases in Syria was launched from an area near Idlib, which is controlled by Turkish-backed rebel forces," according to RT, adding that Moscow complained to Turkey about the incident. The drone attack reportedly took place overnight from Jan. 5 to Jan. 6.
The Russian military said that the attack originated from the village of Muazzara, which is located in the Idlib region of Syria.
Russian and Syrian bombing runs have increased in Idlib in the last week, resulting in the deaths of many civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. ISIS has also recently retaken portions of Idlib, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration of victory in Syria late last year.
It is curious that Russia would blame Turkey, given that the two countries have improved relations over the last year.
"We often overestimate how much governments in capitals have control over the rebel groups they sponsor," Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, told Business Insider.
"Given Turkey's deteriorating relationship with the U.S., it [would be odd] for Turkey to lash out at Russia," Gorenburg said.
Russia shifts the blame from U.S. to Turkey
The development comes one day after the Russian Ministry of Defense implied that the U.S. had helped coordinate the drone attacks on Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility.
The MoD also said that a U.S. spy plane flew over Syria around the time of the attack, which helped the rebels target the drones.
"Any suggestion the U.S., the Coalition or our partnered forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and utterly irresponsible," Defense Department spokesman Eric Pahon told Business Insider in an email, adding over the phone that the insinuation is "absolute bonkers."
"This was not a super sophisticated attack," Gorenburg said, adding that the rebels could have easily launched and targeted the bases themselves.
Russia has released pictures of the drones, which were made of wood, taped together, and equipped with low-tech bombs.
"My hunch is that [Russia] was embarrassed by the attack," Gorenburg said, and that the MoD needed to attribute such an attack to "a major power."