Syria hit by Russian air strikes

  • 01/10/2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Reuters)

By Anna Smolchenko

Russia launched air strikes in war-torn Syria on Wednesday (local time), its first military engagement outside the former Soviet Union since the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.

Russian warplanes carried out strikes in several Syrian provinces along with regime aircraft as Vladimir Putin seeks to steal US President Barack Obama's thunder by pushing a rival plan to defeat Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.

But the United States said that Russian jets had targeted the Syrian opposition and not the IS group.

"We have not seen any strikes against ISIL," a US defence official said, referring to the IS group by an alternative name.

"What we have seen is strikes against the Syrian opposition."

France also raised doubts over whether the Russian raids were aimed at IS amid Western concerns that Moscow may be seeking to buttress Syria's embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters at the United Nations that there "were indications that the Russian strikes did not target" IS militants.

The Russian defence ministry had said earlier it launched surgical strikes against IS militants.

Putin, who earlier on Wednesday (local time) got parliamentary permission to use force abroad, warned Moscow would be hunting down IS militants before they targeted Russia.

Putin also said Assad should be ready for compromise with the opposition.

"We are counting on his ... readiness for compromise for the sake of his country and his people," Putin said.

Addressing the General Assembly for the first time in a decade, Putin on Monday proposed creating a UN-backed coalition to fight the militants - apparently a direct challenge to Obama who has vowed to crush IS.

Washington and its allies blame Assad for the mayhem in Syria, where four years of bloodshed have killed more than 240,000 people.

It says the Syrian leader must go if IS is to be defeated.

Russia argues, however, that the West should support Assad in his fight against the jihadists.

France said it had launched a probe into Assad's regime for alleged crimes against humanity, saying it was forced to act in the face of "systematic cruelty".