Russia would not deploy ground troops to Syria, where it has been conducting air strikes against what it says are ISIS targets, President Vladimir Putin said Sunday.
“We are not planning on doing this (conducting a ground operation), and our Syrian friends know about this,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on state-run Rossiya-1 television channel.
He also said Russia does not want to get involved in an inter-religious war in Syria. He also explained that Russia does not see a difference between Sunni and Shiite groups.
Putin last month received parliamentary approval to launch an air campaign in the war-torn country, but authorities have staunchly denied they would send any ground troops.
Using modern jets and older Soviet aircraft, Russia has bombed command posts and training camps of what it says are radical “terrorists,” backing a ground offensive by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
‘Stabilize legitimate authorities’
Putin said Sunday that the Russian operation’s objective was to “stabilize the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise.”
Speaking of the weaponry used in the strikes -- including cruise missiles Russia fired from the Caspian Sea at targets more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) away -- Putin dismissed the idea that Russia was in a “arms race” with the West.
“This is not about an arms race,” he said. “This is about the fact that modern weapons are improving, changing. In other countries, this is happening even faster than here. This is why we have to keep up.”
The Russian defence ministry said Sunday that its air force had struck 63 targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, destroying a “terrorist” command post and several defensive positions and ammunition depots.
The defence ministry also said progress had been made in talks with the Pentagon on avoiding accidents in Syrian airspace, as a U.S.-led coalition is conducting a separate bombing campaign.
Putin brushed off criticism by the U.S.-led coalition that the Russian air force was not providing it with sufficient advance notice prior to conducting strikes.
“I want to draw attention to the fact that nobody has ever warned us in the planning and beginning of operations of this kind,” Putin said. “But we did.”
Russia hits 63 targets
Meanwhile, Russian fighter jets hit 63 targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, the defence ministry said Sunday, as Moscow intensifies a campaign it says is aimed against ISIS.
“Su-34, Su-24M and Su-25SM planes carried out 64 sorties from the Hmeimim airbase against 63 targets in the provinces of Hama, Latakia, Idlib and Raqa,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
The Russian military claimed that the air strikes had destroyed 53 positions used by the “terrorists,” as well as a command post, four training camps and seven ammunition depots.
Russia said its campaign in the war-torn country was rattling ISIS fighters, claiming that radio intercepts showed “growing panic” among them.
On Saturday, the defence ministry claimed that fighters were running low on arms, ammunition and fuel, leading them to abandon their combat positions for the country's east and northeast.
(With Reuters and AFP)