Russia yesterday insisted that its warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same extremists targeted by the US and contradicted US criticism that its military failed to coordinate the airstrikes, describing the allegations as a “war of disinformation.”
Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov said Moscow’s intervention came only after a year of airstrikes by the US and its partners failed to dislodge Islamic State (IS) extremists, and predicted that Syria could be ready for “free elections” within a year.
Russia’s military said it carried out 20 airstrikes on Wednesday.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said its warplanes targeted and destroyed eight positions belonging to the Islamic State group, in what Russian President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants.
The ministry gave no specific locations, but Orlov said the targets were installations for Islamic State and the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria — “two terrorist organizations recognized as such.”
Orlov told France Info radio the planes were acting as air support for Syrian ground troops.
The US and Russia agree on the need to fight the Islamic State, but not about what to do with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against al-Assad, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and Europe.
“We see that this coalition has been operating in Syria for a year, 5,000 airstrikes have been carried out, and Islamic State is still there,” Orlov said.
With US and allied airstrikes daily and now Russian warplanes, the war is taking on a dangerous new dimension. Orlov said that Russian officials warned the US “via confidential channels” of where they planned to strike.
He added that a coordination center was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians — and any other country that wants to participate.
Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the UN that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed 36 civilians, with five children among the dead. The claim could not be independently verified.
“There has been a certain war of disinformation for some time and everyone is trying to discredit each other,” Orlov said. “We are acting transparently.”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that targets had been chose “in coordination” with the Syrian army.
Saudi Arabia, a leading foe of al-Assad, demanded that Russia end its raids on Syria, saying the strikes had caused civilian casualties while failing to target Islamic State militants.
In remarks at the UN in New York, a Saudi diplomat suggested both Russia and al-Assad’s other main ally, Iran, could not claim to fight Islamic State “terrorism” at the same time as supporting the “terrorism” of the Syrian authorities.
Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi expressed “profound concern regarding the military operations which Russian forces have carried out in Homs and Hama today, places where ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] forces are not present. These attacks led to a number of innocent victims. We demand it stop immediately and not recur.”
“As for those countries that have claimed recently to join in the fight against ISIS terrorism, they can’t do that at the same time as they support the terrorism of the Syrian regime and its terrorist foreign allies like Hezbollah and the Quds Force and other terrorist sectarian groups,” he added in comments broadcast by Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shiiite militia openly fights on behalf of al-Assad’s government, and the Quds Force, part of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, is also widely believed to be aiding Damascus.
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