Russia began airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) positions in Syria, the Russian officials said Wednesday. The strikes come just hours after Russian Parliament voted to allow President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Syria and marks a significant escalation in the fight for control over the Middle Eastern country.
The move means both Russian and American airpower will be conducting airstrikes in Syria, despite the two world powers not necessarily agreeing on a long term strategy for the nation’s future. Both countries want to decimate the Islamic State (ISIS) group, which controls large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. But Russia also hopes to support longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, airstrikes will support the Syrian Army as the country tries to drive ISIS out of its borders. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Assad must leave power as part of an “orderly transition,” though leaders have avoided direct efforts to overthrow him.
Putin told Russian news outlets that Assad should meet with Syrian opposition to discuss a settlement rather than leaving his position.
Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said the effort was necessary “not in order to achieve some foreign policy goals” but “in order to defend Russia’s national interests," the Associated Press reported.
The strikes come shortly after Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed Syria at the United Nations General Assembly. At the meeting, Putin said he was open to air strikes.
In recent months, Russia has also provided weapons and military training to Assad to help hold back ISIS.