MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin has been granted permission from the upper house of Russia’s parliament to carry out air strikes in Syria following a request from the Kremlin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s main military goal was to combat terrorism — assumed to be in reference to Islamic State militants (IS) — and support the forces of president Bashar al-Assad.
“The main objective is the fight against terrorism and supporting the legitimate authorities in Syria in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” he said.
Early on Wednesday, Mr Putin submitted a proposal to the Federation Council to deploy “a contingent of troops” abroad, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Later in the day in televised remarks, the head of the presidential administration Sergei Ivanov said: “The Federation Council unanimously supported the president’s request.”
Mr Ivanov added Syria had asked Russia for military help, and the use of Russia’s military only related to the use of the air force, not boots on the ground.
The Syrian presidency confirmed Damascus made a request to Moscow, and Mr Assad had written to his Russian counterpart regarding the matter.
“Any increase in Russian military support to Syria happened and is happening as a result of a request from the Syrian state,” Mr Assad’s media office said in a statement.
Mr Putin had requested similar permission from the Federation Council to deploy military forces abroad ahead of the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
An official close to the matter told news agency Reuters Russia had sent military experts to the recently established Baghdad centre which coordinated air strikes and ground troops in Syria against IS.
On Monday, Mr Putin called for a broad UN-backed coalition to fight IS as he addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time in a decade.
The Pentagon has in recent weeks said Russia sent bombers, fighter jets, at least 500 troops and a slew of other military hardware to north-western Syria in what many fear is an attempt to keep the war-torn country’s president in power.
Russia’s Syria build-up is Moscow’s first military engagement in a distant theatre of war since the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979.