The upper chamber of the Russian parliament has unanimously given a formal consent to President Putin to use the nation’s military in Syria to fight terrorism at a request from the Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Consent was necessary for use of the country’s military for foreign combat missions under the Russian constitution.
The request for use of force was sent by the president after considering the large number of citizens of Russia and neighboring countries, who went to join terrorist groups fighting in Syria, head of the presidential administration Sergey Ivanov told media. There are thousands of them, and Russia’s national security would be under threat, should they return home, he added.
“This is not about reaching for some foreign policy goals, satisfying ambitions, which our Western partners regularly accuse us of. It’s only about the national interest of the Russian Federation,” the official said.
Ivanov stressed that no ground operations are planned in Syria. Russia would use its warplanes to hit terrorist targets when requested by the Syrian government. He stressed that unlike the US-led coalition of countries that bombs militant troops in Syria, Russia was invited to do so by the legal authorities of Syria and thus follows international law.
“The military goal of the operation is strictly to provide air support for the [Syrian] government forces in their fight against Islamic State,” he said.
The bombing campaign is time-limited, Ivanov said, not revealing a clear deadline for it. He said he was not authorized to disclose details of the operation such as the number of warplanes involved.
“All our partners and allies will be informed about our decision today through corresponding military channels. Specific military information will be provided as well, I believe,” he concluded.
Military engagement in Syria would not result in Russia being mired in conflict, Konstantin Kosachev, head of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, said commenting on the news.
“We would not risk getting stuck in a long conflict and threaten the lives of our troops. The operation is aerial only. Certainly, in coordination with the ground operation of the Syrian army,” he told the Rossiya 24 news channel.
Previously, Russia provided the Syrian government with advanced weapons and military instructors to teach the Syrians how to use them.
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The developement comes after Moscow has intensified involvement in Syria, establishing an Iraqi-based military communications center with Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran.
It also happened just days after President Putin called for an international anti-terrorist effort in Syria that would include the government of President Assad at the UN General Assembly. Western nations have been seeking to oust Assad since 2011, but several key nations such as Germany, France, Britain and the US have confirmed they would not be opposed to Assad staying in power for a transitional period, which would include defeating the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.
IS has taken over large portions of Syria and neighboring Iraq and is on its way to creating a caliphate. Islamic State has consolidated its position with a combination of successful raids, barbaric brutality and active campaigning on social media targeting potential recruits and supporters worldwide.
There are other significant militant groups active in Syria, including an Al Qaeda branch in the region, Al Nusra Front, which competes with IS for territory, resources and fighters. Another major player in the country is the Kurd militia, which has been defending the Kurd-populated north from IS with assistance from the US-led coalition.
Russia’s airstrike approach is similar to the US-led coalition, which involves bombing terrorist targets in Syria. But there is a clear distinction that may allow Moscow to succeed where Washington failed, says John Laughland from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.
“The difference with the Russian deployment – and this is the key point – is that it is being conducted in cooperation with the Syrian Army. The Russian approach is diametrically the opposite of the Western approach. The Syrian Army has boots on the ground,” he told RT.
If the Syrian Army with Russia’s help manages to score victories against Islamic State, this would expose the US as not really trying to defeat the terrorist group militarily, but actually trying to channel its aggression against Damascus, Syrian political analyst Annar Waqqaf told RT.
“The Americans are certainly using the Islamic State. They think they can contain them, because they know that their funding and support base lays [sic] with US allies in Saudi Arabia and that their logistic lies with the US allies in Turkey. They believe that whenever they want to close the tap they can close it. But in fact it’s not true,” he explained.