“In accordance with the decision of the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, Vladimir Putin, warplanes of the Russian Air Space Forces today [Wednesday] have started an aerial operation, involving pinpoint strikes on ground targets of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] terrorists in Syria,” spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said.
The Russia airstrikes are targeting military equipment, communication centers, vehicles, arms and fuel depots, belonging to IS terrorists, Konashenkov added.
Russia’s Rossiya 24 channel said that the first airstrikes were carried out by two Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircrafts “213km north of [the Syrian capital] Damascus” near the city of Hama.
Meanwhile, Syrian state television has named at least seven areas targeted by Russian air strikes. They include areas around the cities of Homs and Hama, which are separated from each other by 44 kilometers.
Earlier, a US official told Reuters that Moscow gave Washington one-hour advanced notice of its operations. The bombing is taking place in western Syria, near the city Homs, the official added.
A Pentagon official also told Russia’s RIA Novosti that Russia urged the US to clear the skies for the operation.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that Russia indeed requested that American aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during the Russian air missions, but the US military will not comply.
“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 (Islamic State),” Kirby said.
Following the reports, Vladimir Putin said all Moscow’s foreign partners have been informed about Russian plans in Syria.
During his meeting with the government, the president stressed that Russia’s participation in the anti-terrorist operation in Syria is based on international law and is being conducted “in accordance with an official request from the president of the Syrian Arab Republic [Bashar Assad].”
On Wednesday morning, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament unanimously gave formal consent to President Putin to use the country’s military in Syria to tackle Islamic State and other terror groups.
The Russian air campaign in Syria is commencing just a few days after Putin’s address at the UN, in which he called for an international anti-terrorist effort in the country.
The Russian president also met with US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly, with the two leaders agreeing that Moscow and Washington have common interest in Syria.
US’ “tacit support” for the Russian operation is a major change to its previous stance, and the reason is that “the Western bombing of Islamic State has been a complete failure,” says John Laughland, Director of Studies, Institute of Democracy and Cooperation in Paris.
“We know that Washington and Moscow are cooperating and that Washington is giving tacit support. It’s precisely the result of the meeting that occurred in the UN building between presidents Putin and Obama. Moscow would inform Washington about its airstrikes in order to prevent any kind of accidents, any kind of conflict breaking out,” he said.
The difference between the Western deployment of troops and the Russian is that Moscow’s decision is being “conducted in cooperation with the Syrian army.”
“The Russian approach is diametrically the opposite of the Western approach,” Laughland said.
“I don’t believe in a political solution any more in Syria. I think the priority precisely has to be given to a military solution. And the politics can come later,” he added. “It is time now to clear this threat and to deal with it militarily. And I really don’t see other option to that.”
Syrian political activist Ammar Waqqaf said that Russia’s move did not come as a surprise to Washington, but “they are pretty much embarrassed” because of two things.
“A: This Russian move is ultimately going to expose that they have been very much soft-handed on the IS terrorist organization, that they haven’t been really interested in defeating them, but probably containing them and steering them towards defeating the Syrian government. B: the most important thing now is that whilst the Russian initiative comes within international law – they’ve waited for the host country to ask for help, the American initiative neither waited for the Syrian government to ask for help, nor had a mandate from the UN,” he said.