Starting last week, Russian bombs have been falling over Syria. Early Wednesday, September 30, 2015, American officials in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad were warned that Russian aircraft would begin hitting targets in Syria within the hour. These events are indicative of a sharp escalation of Moscow’s military involvement in the Syrian fight.
Speaking at the UN in New York on Thursday, October 1, 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was targeting the Islamic State (IS) and other militant groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate. He stated these are the same terror groups the U.S.-led coalition has targeted in Iraq and Syria during the past year. Lavrov also rejected suggestions that Moscow is trying to bolster the Syrian military, and mentioned that Russia is just selecting targets “in co-ordination with the Syrian army.” The Foreign Minister also said Russia did not consider the opposition Free Syrian Army a terrorist group, affirming that it should be part of the political process. Lastly, Lavrov assured Russia is not planning on expanding air strikes to Iraq.
The recent bombings led Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, to believe that Russia is carrying out random air strikes against the Syrian opposition. As a result, U.S. and Russian officials held hour-long talks the day after the first bombing to discuss “deconfliction” operations. Earnest added that this was the first of a series of discussions that will be held between the two countries. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), for its part, has released a statement urging Russia to end airstrikes “on the Syrian opposition and civilians.”
Following the strikes, the U.S., the UK, Turkey and other coalition members have expressed concern over Russia’s presence in the area. The U.S.-led coalition worries particularly about the statements made by Syrian opposition groups regarding civilian deaths and the targeting of non-IS forces. While Russian officials have assured that warplanes have avoided civilian areas, the coalition fears that Russia’s presence will “only fuel more extremism and radicalization.”
The Syrian civil war began with an uprising against the government. What started as anti-government protests quickly developed into a civil war that four years on has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory. The factions have splintered into various rebel groups fighting President Assad’s forces, as well as each other.
For more information:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Turkey – http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-267_-02-october-2015_-joint-declaration-on-recent-military-actions-of-the-russian-federation-on-syria.en.mfa