A Russia-backed rebel walks past tanks during the withdrawal of weapons near Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Max Black)
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Valery Anisimov and his fellow Russian servicemen were smuggled out of the Black Sea hiding below the decks of their ship, they grew their hair long so they could pass as tourists, then landed at a Syrian port to join up with government military units.Their trip took place in January 1983, 32 years before Russia's military again joined a Syrian conflict with its launch last month of airstrikes on militant groups opposed to the Damascus government.These relationships also involved Moscow sending its soldiers to Syria – though for the most part these missions were not publicly acknowledged because the Kremlin did not want to be an official party to the region's armed conflicts.A decade later, even after the Soviet Union collapsed, Russian service personnel were again serving on clandestine missions in Syria, though on a smaller scale.Oleg Popikov, now the 53-year-old chairman of a military plant in Kyrgyzstan's capital, Bishkek, was a captain in the Soviet military when, in 1990, he was first sent to Syria.For four years, he served as a military adviser to the Syrian armed forces, based in the city of Deraa, in southwest Syria.
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