Putin secures parliamentary backing for air strikes in Syria
Moscow, September 30
President Vladimir Putin today secured Parliament’s unanimous backing to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, paving the way for imminent Russian military intervention in its closest Middle East ally.
The move, which sets the stage for Russia’s biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, was announced as Syrian government warplanes conducted heavy strikes in Homs province and the United States and its allies struck Islamic State targets.
Russia, which has been steadily dispatching more and more military aircraft to a base in Latakia, declined to say when it would launch its own strikes, but made it clear it too would be targeting Islamic State militants.
As part of its preparations, Moscow has already sent military experts to a recently established command centre in Baghdad which is coordinating air strikes and ground troops in Syria, a Russian official told Reuters today.
The Russian Defence Ministry said the centre is used to share information on possible air strikes in Syria.
Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin’s Chief of Staff said Russia’s missions would be limited and not open-ended and precluded the use of ground troops.“As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out. The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS,” he said.
The decision to get involved militarily in Syria will be a further challenge for Moscow, which is already intervening in Ukraine at a time when its economy is suffering from low oil prices and Western sanctions.
A US-led coalition has already been bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but Russia has been highly critical, saying it has only yielded meagre results so far. France announced at the weekend that it had launched its first air strikes in Syria.
Ivanov said the upper house of Parliament had backed military action by 162 votes to zero after President Bashar al-Assad had asked for Russian military assistance.
The Syrian presidency confirmed that in a statement, saying Assad had written to Putin and Russia was increasing its military support as a direct result of that appeal.
Ivanov said Russia was only acting to protect its own interests in Syria, where it maintains a Soviet-era naval facility at Tartous, its only access to the Mediterranean.
“We’re talking specifically about Syria and we are not talking about achieving foreign policy goals or about satisfying our ambitions ... but exclusively about the national interests of the Russian Federation,” said Ivanov.