Russian warships in the Caspian Sea have launched cruise missiles at, what Moscow claims are, Islamic State (IS/ISIL) targets in Syria.
In a televised meeting, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that 26 missiles were launched against 11 targets in Syria on Wednesday morning.
“Our target monitoring data shows that all targets were destroyed and civilian facilities were not damaged in the strikes,” Mr Shoigu said. “These strikes’ results demonstrate the high effectiveness of our missiles launched from a big distance of nearly 1,500 kilometres.”
Syrian sources have also claimed that troops loyal to the Assad regime used Russian air cover to launch a ground offensive; the first co-ordinated assault since Russia began bombing on September 30.
Russia has been criticised by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and by Syrian activists, who say that the Russian campaign in Syria has largely been aimed at moderate rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad and claim high civilian casualties. The Syrian Organisation for Human Rights said Hama and Idlib provinces endured “the most intense fighting in months” following Russian air strikes.
Mr Putin indicated in his meeting with Mr Shoigu that he wishes to see a political solution to the instability in Syria. “During my recent visit to Paris, the President of France, Mr Hollande, voiced an interesting idea that he thought is worth a try, namely, to have President Assad’s government troops join forces with the Free Syrian Army,” he said.
“True, we do not know yet where this army is and who heads it, but if we take the view that these people are part of the healthy opposition, if it were possible to have them join in the fight against terrorist organisations such as ISIS [IS], Jabhat al-Nusra and others, this would help pave the way to a future political settlement in Syria.”
However, a source close to Francois Hollande has denied that the French President made such a suggestion. “The president spoke of the necessary presence of the Syrian opposition around the negotiating table,” the source said. “The rest is not a French idea.”
Western forces have also rebuffed suggestions of co-operation with the Russian campaign. “We are not prepared to cooperate in a strategy which as we explained is flawed, tragically flawed on Russia’s part,” United States Defence Secretary Ash Carter said at a press conference in Rome. “They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL [IS]. We believe this is a fundamental mistake. Despite what the Russians say, we have not agreed to cooperate with Russia, so long as they continue to pursue mistaken strategy and hit these targets.”
Speaking at a troop event in Italy, Mr Carter also repeated remarks that Russia was “pouring gasoline” on the Syrian civil war. “The Russians are blundering into a situation – and I’ve made this point repeatedly – that is going to backlash on them,” he said.
Coalition air strikes in Syria have continued despite the Russian presence. – Jake Nelson
Top image of a Russian cruise missile launch in the Caspian Sea from Russian Ministry of Defence.