BEIJING. — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed yesterday that Russian air-strikes in Syria were conducted exclusively on targets connected to IS. Rumours that the air-strikes did not target IS positions were groundless, Lavrov said after meeting his US counterpart John Kerry in New York.
On Wednesday, Russian air forces launched air-strikes in the central Syrian provinces of Homs and Hama after Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, granted President Vladimir Putin the right to send armed forces to Syria.
According to the Russian Defence Ministry, 20 sorties were carried out, hitting eight IS targets, including a command post.
Defending his decision to strike IS in Syria, Putin said “the only true way to combat international terrorism, which is rampant in Syria and its neighbouring countries, is to act pre-emptively.”
“(We should) fight with and destroy terrorist militants in the territories occupied by them, not waiting for these terrorists to come to our home,” Putin was quoted as saying in an online transcript released by the Kremlin.
If the IS succeeds in Syria, no doubt the militants who come from other countries to assist the IS would go back to their motherland, including Russia, Putin said.
The IS controls part of Homs province, including the ancient town of Palmy. Homs also hosts positions run by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, the Busra Front. Both groups have fighters from the former Soviet Union, including Chechnya.
“It is possible and appropriate to bring together all interested countries to fight international terrorism and work together based on the United Nations Charter,” Putin said.
In line with international law and in accordance with the official request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s military operations in Syria would be conducted with the only aim of fighting terrorists, from air rather than on the ground, as well as with limited time duration of Syrian army’s military offensives, Putin said.
However, Moscow’s military action in Syria has drawn concern from Washington as the pair have different positions regarding Syria’ s government.
The United States has been demanding the resignation of Assad, an ally of Russia, and has been conducting airstrikes in Syria without the approval of Damascus. Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011 with forces loyal to Assad having been fighting several opposition factions and numerous militant groups, including IS.
Kerry on Wednesday expressed “grave concerns” about Russia’s intention in Syria, saying “We would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaida-affiliated targets are not operating.”
“Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime,” Kerry told a counter-terrorism meeting at the United Nations, using an alternate acronym for IS. At the UN meeting, Kerry said the United States “supports any genuine effort” to fight the IS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
“If Russia’s recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat that organisation, then we are prepared to welcome those efforts and to find a way to de-conflict our operations and thereby multiply the military pressure on ISIL and affiliated groups,” the top US diplomat said.
“But we must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad,” he added.
Reports said that a Russian official informed the US Embassy in Iraq some one hour prior to Russia’s air-strikes and warned the United States to stay clear of Syrian airspace.
“The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday. US Defence Minister Ash Carter also said that the Russians appeared to have targeted areas that did not include IS militants and complained that Moscow did not use formal channels to inform Washington of the air-strikes.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the UN Security Council that France is ready to cooperate with Russia and others in the fight against the IS group in Syria, but under conditions that include an end to violence against Syrian civilians and the exit of Assad.
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond said his country welcomes Russia’s new “focus” on using force but warned that it is very important that Russia be able to confirm that its military action does not target Syria’s opposition. — Xinhua.