Islamic State ‘not only target’ of Russian air strikes in Syria
Kremlin says operation focused on list of targets chosen in co-ordination with Syria
Russian air strikes in Syria are targeting a list of well-known militant organisations, not only Islamic State, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
Moscow had previously framed its campaign as primarily aimed at Islamic State militants, saying it feared Russian and other ex-Soviet citizens who belong to the group would shift their focus to their home countries if they were not stopped in Syria.
But on Thursday, after the United States and rebels on the ground suggested Russian strikes had so far not focused on Islamic State, it said its operation was pitched more broadly.
“These organisations (on the target list) are well-known and the targets are chosen in co-ordination with the armed forces of Syria,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, when asked if Russia and the West had different views on what constituted a terrorist group.
He said that mechanisms to coordinate the strikes with other countries were working.
Asked whether president Vladimir Putin was satisfied with the way the Russian air campaign was shaping up, Mr Peskov said it was too early to discuss the matter.
Russia’s air strikes represent its biggest Middle East intervention in decades, adding a complex new dimension to Syria’s four-year civil war as Mr Putin moves forcefully to stake out influence in the highly unstable region.
The US state department said a Russian diplomat in Baghdad notified the US of the intended air strikes an hour in advance and warned that American aircraft that have been pressing a daily bombing campaign against Islamic State positions should avoid Syrian airspace.
US secretary of state John Kerry said the Russian warning was ignored and US air strikes continued on Wednesday.
Mr Putin initially said he was striking against Islamic State and helping Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, long Russia’s closest ally in the region.
Washington is concerned that Moscow is more interested in propping up Mr Assad, who the US has long said should leave office, than defeating Islamic State. Mr Assad’s opponents in the brutal civil war include rebel groups that oppose both him and Islamic State and that are supported by the US and other Western countries.
Syrians living in rebel-held areas of Homs province said the Russian air force unleashed a whole new level of devastation on their towns.
On Thursday, several Russian newspapers close to the Kremlin emphasised Mr Putin’s comments about how Moscow did not intend to “plunge head first” into the Syrian conflict and how Russia’s intervention was legal because it was taking place at the request of the Syrian president.