Kremlin says vote refers to use of air force and does not mean Russian ground forces will be involved in conflict
Vladimir Putin has received permission from parliament for Russian forces to take place in bombing raids in Syria, two days after the Russian leader spoke to the UNand called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Islamic State.
The federation council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, held a swift, closed session on Wednesday morning in which it unanimously approved Putin’s request.
Putin said in New York that Russia would not carry out ground operations in Syria, and his chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, emphasised this again on Wednesday, saying the request to the federation council referred exclusively to airstrikes. He did not give any figures of the number of planes likely to be involved or the number of Russian military specialists on the ground inside Syria to back up the operation.
Fox News reported on Wednesday that Russian officials have sent an official demand for US planes to exit Syrian airspace immediately, as a number of Russian officials described western airstrikes in the region as illegal.
“You all know well that in the territory of Syria and Iraq … a number of countries are carrying out bombing strikes, including the United States,” said Ivanov. “These actions do not conform with international law. To be legal they should be supported either by a resolution of the UN security council, or be backed by a request from the country where the raids are taking place.”
Ivanov said the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, had asked Russia for military assistance, making Russia’s actions legitimate.
In recent weeks, Russia has begun a military buildup around the port city of Latakia, prompting intrigue and concern in the west as to Russia’s goals.
Putin told the UN the world should come together to fight Islamic State in the same way as it joined forces to fight Hitler in the second world war, though differences between Russia and the west over the role and fate of Assad make it unlikely that a broad coalition will emerge. Instead, it is more likely that the US and other western countries will allow Russia to act but watch on warily. Some western countries have softened their stance that Assad must go as part of a peace settlement, but remain uneasy with Putin’s heroic characterisation of Assad as the last bulwark against terrorism.
Putin spent 90 minutes in a bilateral meeting with US president Barack Obama after his speech to the UN general assembly, about half of which was spent discussing Syria.
“I’m not waiting for any reaction from the west and I’m not particularly interested in it. There will be cries, hysterics, then there will be realpolitik and maybe understanding,” Evgeny Satanovsky, the head of the Russian Middle East Institute, told Russian television.
Putin also used his speech at the UN to rail against “a world in which egotism reigns supreme”, accusing arrogant western policies of regime change and of being responsible for the chaos in the Middle East.
Putin last asked the federation council to authorise the use of troops abroad in March 2014, prior to the annexation of Crimea. The resolution was withdrawn by the Kremlin in June, although it was only in August that large-scale evidence emerged of Russian troops in east Ukraine. Russia has continually denied using troops in Ukraine.
At least 27 people were killed in Syrian army air strikes on areas in the western province of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.
The strikes targeted northern areas in the Homs countryside. Six children were among the dead, while dozens were wounded, the Observatory added.
Paris prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into French government accusations that Assad’s government committed crimes against humanity.
The prosecutor’s office said the investigation was based on photos taken by a former Syrian officer who fled the country in 2013 and focuses on atrocities allegedly committed between 2011 and 2013. The investigation, which opened this month, is in its earliest stages, prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said. It is unclear who might eventually be charged and whether French investigators would travel to war-torn Syria.