Rus­sia launches airstrikes against Is­lamic State in Syria

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY NATALIYA VASI­LYEVA

Rus­sian mil­i­tary jets car­ried out airstrikes Wed­nes­day against the Is­lamic State ( IS) group in Syria for the first time — a move that came af­ter Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin re­ceived par­lia­men­tary ap­proval to send Rus­sian troops to Syria.

The airstrikes tar­geted po­si­tions, ve­hi­cles and ware­houses that Rus­sia be­lieves be­long to IS mil­i­tants, min­istry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Rus­sian news agen­cies.

Putin sought to por­tray the airstrikes as a pre- emp­tive at­tack against the Is­lamic mil­i­tants who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq. Rus­sia es­ti­mates at least 2,400 of its own cit­i­zens are al­ready fight­ing with ex­trem­ists in Syria and Iraq.

“If they ( mil­i­tants) suc­ceed in Syria, they will re­turn to their home coun­try, and they will come to Rus­sia, too,” Putin said in a tele­vised speech at a gov­ern­ment ses­sion.

State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby told The As­so­ci­ated Press that a Rus­sian of­fi­cial in Bagh­dad in­formed U. S. Em­bassy per­son­nel on Wed­nes­day that Rus­sian mil­i­tary air­craft would shortly be­gin fly­ing an­tiIS mis­sions over Syria. The Rus­sian of­fi­cial also asked that U. S. air­craft avoid Syr­ian airspace dur­ing those mis­sions Wed­nes­day. Kirby did not say whether the U. S. agreed to that re­quest.

The U. S.- led counter- IS coali­tion will con­tinue to fly mis­sions over Iraq and Syria, Kirby added.

Rus­sian law­mak­ers voted unan­i­mously Wed­nes­day to al­low Putin to or­der airstrikes in Syria, where Rus­sia has de­ployed fighter jets and other weapons in re­cent weeks. The Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil, the up­per cham­ber of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment, dis­cussed Putin’s re­quest for the au­tho­riza­tion be­hind closed doors, cut­ting off its live web broad­cast to hold a de­bate no­table for its quick­ness.

Putin had to re­quest par­lia­men­tary ap­proval for any use of Rus­sian troops abroad, ac­cord­ing to the con­sti­tu­tion. The last time he did so was be­fore Rus­sia an­nexed Ukraine’s Crimean Penin­sula in March 2014.

Putin on Wed­nes­day in­sisted that Rus­sia is not go­ing to send troops to Syria and that its role in Syr­ian army oper­a­tions will be lim­ited.

“We cer­tainly are not go­ing to plunge head- on into this con­flict,” he said. “First, we will be sup­port­ing the Syr­ian army purely in its le­git­i­mate fight with ter­ror­ist groups. Sec­ond, this will be air sup­port with­out any par­tic­i­pa­tion in the ground oper­a­tions.”

Putin Ex­pects As­sad to

Sit Down and Talk

Putin also said he ex­pects Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, Rus­sia’s long- time ally, to sit down and talk with the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion about a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, but added he was re­fer­ring to what he de­scribed as a “healthy” op­po­si­tion group.

Rus­sia’s first airstrike on Syria came af­ter Putin’s meet­ing Mon­day with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on the side­lines of the U. N. Gen­eral Assem­bly meet­ing in New York, where the two dis­cussed Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary buildup in Syria.

Putin and

other

of­fi­cials have said Rus­sia was pro­vid­ing weapons and train­ing to As­sad’s army to help it com­bat IS. Rus­sian navy trans­port ves­sels have been shut­tling back and forth for weeks to ferry troops, weapons and sup­plies to an air base near the Syr­ian coastal city of Latakia. IHS Jane’s, a lead­ing de­fense re­search group, said last week that satel­lite im­ages of the base showed 28 jets, in­clud­ing Su- 30 mul­ti­role fight­ers, Su- 25 ground at­tack jets, Su- 24 bombers and pos­si­bly Ka- 52 he­li­copter gun­ships.

Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, said in tele­vised re­marks af­ter the par­lia­men­tary vote that Moscow was re­spond­ing to a re­quest from As­sad ask­ing for help. He said the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween Rus­sian airstrikes and those be­ing con­ducted by the United States and other coun­tries is that “they do not com­ply with in­ter­na­tional law, but we do.”

Top Ally of As­sad

Moscow has al­ways been a top ally of As­sad. The war in Syria against his regime, which be­gan in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced mil­lions to flee the coun­try. It is also the driv­ing force be­hind the record- break­ing num­ber of asy­lum- seek­ers flee­ing to Europe this year.

Wor­ried by the threat of Rus­sian and U. S. jets clash­ing in­ad­ver­tently over Syr­ian skies, Washington agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “de­con­flict” their mil­i­tary ac­tions. Last week, U. S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter had a 50- minute phone call with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part — the first such mil­i­tary- to- mil­i­tary dis­cus­sion be­tween the two more than a year.

On Tues­day, U. S. De­fense Depart­ment press sec­re­tary Peter Cook said Carter had in­structed his staff to con­tact Rus­sian of­fi­cials about es­tab­lish­ing talks on ways to keep each other’s air oper­a­tions in Syria from col­lid­ing or oth­er­wise get­ting in each other’s way. Cook said it was not yet clear when these talks would start.

Is­rael has taken sim­i­lar pre­cau­tions, with Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu vis­it­ing Moscow last week to agree with Putin on a co­or­di­na­tion mech­a­nism to avoid any pos­si­ble con­fronta­tion be­tween Is­raeli and Rus­sian forces in Syria.

Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil chair­woman Valentina Matvienko said in a live news con-

coun­tries

in fer­ence on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion that par­lia­ment’s de­ci­sion on Wed­nes­day re­flected Rus­sia’s grow­ing role in global af­fairs.

“We as a great power can­not but take part in fight­ing this great evil,” Matvienko said, adding that the Soviet Union and Syria signed a se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment in 1980 that guar­an­tees that Moscow would help Damascus if asked. “We couldn’t refuse Bashar As­sad and keep on see­ing how peo­ple, women and chil­dren are dy­ing.”

In Bagh­dad, Saad al- Ha­dithi, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime min­is­ter, said his gov­ern­ment was in talks with Rus­sia “in the hope that shared in­tel­li­gence will fur­ther our abil­i­ties to de­feat the ter­ror­ists within our borders.”

AFP

Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin chairs a meet­ing of his gov­ern­ment at the NovoO­gary­ovo res­i­dence out­side Moscow on Wed­nes­day, Sept. 30.

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