Russia Launches Airstrikes Against Bashar Al-Assad Enemies In Syria

Sep 30, 2015
Originally published on September 30, 2015 5:44 pm
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And now the view from Russia. Kremlin officials are stressing that the mission in Syria is in their national interest, a way of keeping Russian-born jihadis from returning to fight at home. Here's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: It seems likely that Russian warplanes were warming up their engines just as Russia's parliament passed a measure authorizing the use of military force overseas. Russian troops in Syria have been setting up the airfield where the warplanes are based for the past few weeks. Sergei Ivanov, President Putin's chief of staff, said the mission was exclusively about defending Russia's national interests because Russian citizens are among the Islamic State fighters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEI IVANOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "Now there are thousands of such Russians," he said, "and it was necessary to fight them in Syria to avoid having to fight them if they come back to Russia." That's a stance that resonates with many ordinary Russians. This man, 34-year-old Anton, declined to give his last name because he's afraid his opinion might affect his government job.

ANTON: (Through interpreter) We had two wars in Chechnya. We know what Muslim fundamentalism is. We remember how gleefully they cut off the heads of our captured soldiers. Do you want that on a world scale? Russia doesn't want it.

FLINTOFF: But defense analyst Alexander Golts says the operation isn't really about military objectives at all.

ALEXANDER GOLTS: It's no doubt that Russian airstrikes will lead to nothing. Aircrafts, of course, cannot change the situation there.

FLINTOFF: Golts says Russia's contingent is too small to make any strategic difference but that its real purpose is political.

GOLTS: The goal is absolutely clear - to overcome from international isolation.

FLINTOFF: And, he says, Putin has succeeded. In just two weeks, the Russian president has recast himself from being an aggressor in Ukraine to being seen as a reasonable world leader who's willing to take on the Islamic State. As if to underscore that this mission is about reclaiming international legitimacy, Sergei Ivanov stressed that Russia acted only after a request from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

IVANOV: (Speaking Russian).

FLINTOFF: "It's necessary to observe the norms of international law," Ivanov said, charging that the United States and other nations were flouting the law because they undertook military action without getting U.N. approval or a request from the Syrian government. The United States and its Western allies believe that Putin can't derive legitimacy from the Syrian government or President Assad. They've said that Assad brought on the crisis with his violent effort to crush the Syrian opposition. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.