Russia defends its military action in Syria

Russian Foreign Minister rejected claims that the airstrikes were meant to shore up support for Moscow’s main ally in the Middle East.

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As Russian warplanes carried out a second wave of airstrikes on Thursday in Syria, Moscow has come out in defense of its military involvement against Western criticism of its intentions, saying it sees “eye-to-eye” with the U.S.-led coalition campaign on its targets in the country.

The claim of agreement with Washington came amid conflicting reports about Russia’s intentions in Syria and whether it is targeting only ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Speaking on Thursday at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected suggestions that the airstrikes were meant to shore up support for Moscow’s main ally in the Middle East.

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He insisted Russia was targeting the same militant groups as the U.S.-led coalition, which is conducting its own airstrikes in Syria: the ISIS, Nusra Front and other groups.

“I would recall that we always were saying that we are going to fight ISIL and other terrorist groups,” he said. “This is the same position which the Americans are taking. The representatives of the coalition command have always been saying that their targets are ISIL, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups. This is basically our position as well. We see eye-to-eye with the coalition on this one.”

The U.S. and its allies fear that Russia, which has backed the family of President Bashar Assad since the current leader’s father was in power, is using the air campaign as a pretext to go after anti-Assad rebels that include CIA-backed groups.

Russian jets appeared to be primarily bombing central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to Assad’s strongholds in the capital of Damascus and the coast.

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Warplanes hit locations of a U.S.-backed rebel group, Tajamu Alezzah, in the central province of Hama, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It added that Tajamu Alezzah also was targeted a day earlier.

Idlib province appeared to bear the brunt of the attacks, activists said. The province is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that includes the Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

On Wednesday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Russian warplanes “didn’t hit Islamic State,” and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had also said the Russians appeared to have targeted areas that did not include ISIS militants.

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