Russian parliament unanimously approves military force in Syria

Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, Wednesday unanimously approved the use of Russian military force in Syria, although the president’s request did not specify a country or region – only “abroad.” The last time the Russian parliament approved a Putin request to deploy troops abroad,as required under Russian law, Russian forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014.  Moscow appears to be gearing up to join Iran and the Syrian army for a major offensive against the Islamic State.

Vladimir Putin defies West as Russia bomb ‘Syrian rebel targets instead of Isil’ –

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, listens as he meets with members of Russia's Security Consul in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Novo-Ogaryovo, Russia, Tuesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, listens as he meets with members of Russia’s Security Consul in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Novo-Ogaryovo, Russia, Tuesday.

Vladimir Putin request to Russian parliament required under country’s law immediately approved, paving the way for open Russian intervention in Syria

Ivanov said Moscow was responding to a request from Assad asking for help.

The Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, discussed Putin’s request for the authorization behind closed doors Wednesday, cutting off its live web broadcast to hold a debate notable for its quickness.

Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks after the discussion that the parliament voted unanimously to give the green light to Putin’s request. The proposal does not need to go to the lower chamber.

Ivanov insisted that Moscow is not sending ground troops to Syria, but will only use its air force “in order to support the Syrian government forces in their fight against the Islamic State” group.

Ivanov said Moscow was responding to a request from Assad asking for help. He said the biggest difference from the air strikes being conducted by the United States and other countries is that “they do not comply with international law, but we do.”

Moscow has always been a top ally of Assad. The war in Syria against his regime, which began in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee the country. It is also the driving force behind the record-breaking number of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe this year.

Ivanov told reporters that Russia decided to help Assad in order to protect its own country from Islamic militants, not because of “some foreign policy goals or ambitions that our Western partners often accuse us of.”

“We are talking about Russia’s national security interests,” Ivanov said, adding that Moscow is worried about the growing number of Russian recruits going off to fight for the ISIS. Russia estimates that at least 2,400 of its citizens are fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Moscow should “take pre-emptive steps and do it on distant frontiers, instead of facing the issue here and later on,” said Ivanov.

Asked about the possibility of Russian aircraft joining air strikes on the IS, Putin said in New York on Monday that Moscow would do so in full conformity with international law.

A Digital Globe satellite image courtesy of Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm in Austin, Texas, shows aircraft deployed around Bassel Al Assad Air Base in Syria, in this image released on September 24, 2015. Russia has sought military-to-military discussions with the United States as it forges ahead with a buildup in Syria that now includes more than two dozen advanced fighter jets, as well as tanks, troops and artillery.

“We are thinking what else we could do to support those who are fighting terrorists, including the IS,” Putin said.

“We are thinking what else we could do to support those who are fighting terrorists, including the IS,” Putin said. “There is no talk and there can’t be any talk about involvement of Russian military units in ground operations.”

Worried by the threat of Russian and U.S. jets clashing inadvertently over Syrian skies, Washington agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “deconflict” their military actions. Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had a 50-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, in the first such military-to-military discussion between the two countries in more than a year.

Israel has taken similar precautions, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Moscow last week to agree with Putin on a coordination mechanism to avoid any possible confrontation between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria.

Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matvienko said in a live news conference on Russian television that the decision reflects Russia’s growing role in global affairs.

“We as a great power cannot but take part in fighting this great evil,” Matvienko said, adding that the Soviet Union and Syria signed a security cooperation agreement in 1980 that guarantees that Moscow would help Damascus if asked. “We couldn’t refuse Bashar Assad and keep on seeing how people, women and children are dying.”

But sending Russian troops to Syria does not appear to have much public support. As few as 14% would support the move, according to a poll by the Levada polling agency published Monday. The nationwide poll of 2,400 people was conducted Sept. 18-21 and has a margin of error of 4%.

Russian opposition was rattled by the Kremlin’s request to send troops abroad and the secretive way the vote was held.

“The fact that the Federation Council considered sending our troops abroad behind closed doors looks unconstitutional,” opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter. “Or is it just their own grandsons who are going off (to fight)?”

In Baghdad, Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, said his government was in talks with Russia “in the hope that shared intelligence will further our abilities to defeat the terrorists within our borders.”

The Telegraph’s Roland Oliphant reports from Moscow:


QuoteA Russian military spokesman has said all targets hit today had been identified by the Syrian Army and prior aerial reconnaissance.

“Today Russian aircraft carried out precise strikes against eight Isil terror group targets on the territory of Syria. About 20 sorties were flown.”

“Russian aircraft did not target civilian infrastructure or carry out strikes in the proximity of such infrastructure,” Maj. Gen Igor Koneshenkov said.

He said the targets, including an Isil command base in a “mountainous area”, had been destroyed.


More from Ash Carter, the US defence secretary, who says that Russia’s military involvement in Syria is counterproductive and will end badly:

QuoteThe Russian approach here is doomed to fail. I hope that they come over to a point of view where they try to pursue their objectives in a different way that makes more sense.


However, the Russian defence ministry claims it struck eight Isil targets.


Ash Carter, the US Defence Secretary, has accused Russia of “pouring gasoline on the fire”. He said the Russian strikes were in areas where there were probably no Isil forces. He has directed a team to meet with Russian defence counterparts “as soon a possible” in the next few days.


Roland Oliphant, our Moscow correspondent, has this analysis:

QuoteRussia is calculating that because they are backing an incumbent regime – albeit a weakened one – they will avoid the nightmare faced by America and Britain during the occupation of Iraq. But there are still two key risks.

The first relates to casualties. If Russia starts losing jets; if, god forbid, a downed Russian airman suffers the same fate as the Jordanian pilot publicly burned alive by Isil in February, there will be immense pressure from within Russia to retaliate forcefully. That could push Russian forces deeper into the conflict.

And what if airstrikes don’t work? Analysts say the Kremlin has no illusions that Mr Assad can restore his control over the majority of Syria – the objective is probably to secure him in a rum state in the most heavily populated, western part of the country. But he is critically short of man power, and if he continues to lose ground Mr Putin will have to choose between accepting the failure of the air campaign, or sending in ground troops. And who knows where that might end.


John McCain, speaking in the US Senate, has accused President Obama of a “total lack of American leadership” over his handling of Syria.

Russian President President Vladimir Putin addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015.