Vladimir Putin just confirmed what many suspected — that Russian airstrikes in Syria are meant to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
But exactly how they’re doing that remains a point of contention: Are Russians really focused on pummeling ISIS, or are they targeting Syrian rebels demanding an end to the Assad dynasty?
“Our task is to stabilize the legitimate government and to create conditions for a political compromise … by military means, of course,” Putin told the state-run Russia 24 TV.
“The units of international terrorists and their ilk have no desire to negotiate with the Syrian government, who is almost sieged in its own capital.”
Russia has said it’s coordinating with the Syrian regime to target ISIS and other terrorists. Al-Assad has used the term “terrorists” to describe Syrians who seek his ouster.
Since launching its first airstrikes in Syria on September 30, Russia has flown dozens of combat missions and conducted more than 100 airstrikes, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
The Defense Ministry said Monday it conducted 55 airstrikes in Syria aimed at 53 ISIS targets over the past 24 hours.
The day before, the ministry said, Russia targeted 63 ISIS positions, including 53 strongholds, a command center, four training camps and seven ammunition depots.
Russia maintains that ISIS is its main target.
But military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona said he has no doubt Russia is targeting Syrian rebels rather than ISIS.
“I think it’s very apparent from the target sets that we’re watching. Even the maps that are released from the Russians themselves show where they’re concentrating their airstrikes,” Francona said.
“And if you look at the map where they are hitting, most of them are concentrated in that area between Hama and Aleppo — and that’s where the Syrian rebels have had success over the past two months.”
Putin: No Russian ground forces
Russia’s military role in Syria will not involve a ground operation, Putin said.