Opposition to Reuters: Moscow deploys ground troops in Idlib campaign
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.
"These special Russian forces are now present in the battlefield. The Russians are intervening directly now," said Captain Naji Mustafa, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) coalition of opposition factions.
Russian ground forces entered the battle with Assad militias to seize the strategic Hememiat hilltops in northern Hama that fell into opposition hands last week, regaining it after previous successive attempts by the army failed.
"When Assad militias failed to advance, Russia then intervened directly ... after bombing the area with more than 200 sorties," Mustafa said.
Russian defence ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
More than two months of Russian-backed operations in and around Idlib province have yielded little or nothing for Russia and its Bashar Assad.
It is a rare case of a military campaign that has not gone in Russia's favour since it intervened in 2015.
"Russia did not only fail but has been exposed to defeat," Mustafa said.