Russian news agencies have reported that Russian airstrikes have attacked 55 ISIS targets in 24 hours despite Western and rebel forces claiming Russia is primarily targeting rebel groups against Assad. Russia also claims to have destroyed 8 ISIS strongholds and 11 ISIS training camps in Syria. In early October, Russia’s top armed forces official said that Russia has bombed over 50 ISIS targets in three days. Russia plans to continue strikes in Syria between 3-4 months.
The US claims that 90% of Russian strikes targeted West and Saudi-backed opposition rebels instead of ISIS positions. Opposition forces say they are the ones getting bombed, leading to over forty Syrian insurgent groups vowing retaliation against Russian airstrikes. The Syrian ambassador says Russia is only attacking the Islamic state. The head of the lower house of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Alexei Pushkov, accused the US of pretending to bomb ISIS during the last year. British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State John Kerry have said Russian intervention in Syria will only make the situation in the country worse.
Russia claims to have the same aim as the US to target terrorist groups; however, Russia’s definition of “terrorist” differs from the West’s. Russian president Vladimir Putin wants to work with Assad to defeat all “terrorists” in the region, while Western powers want Assad removed and ISIS defeated while funding rebel forces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admits that ISIS isn’t there only target and they are working with the Assad government to attack other terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
“If it looks like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist,” Lavrov said.
In early October, Russia launched 26 missiles aimed for Syria from the Caspian Sea roughly 1,500km away; however, “unnamed US officials” said at least four missiles landed short in Iran and may have damaged buildings and hurt civilians. Russia denies the claim and states all the missiles reached their target in Northern Syria. Iran also denies the claim, stating, “We have no reports of any Russian missiles crashing in Iran. All those media reports alleging that Russian missiles aiming at Syria hit Iran are blatant lies.” The unnamed officials gave no details of where the missiles landed and cannot confirm the claim.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, “Unlike CNN, we don’t distribute information citing anonymous sources, but show the very missile launches and the way they hit their targets almost in real time.”
American based NGO Human Rights Watch claims Russia killed at least 17 civilians in airstrikes, while Russian president Vladimir Putin calls the claim an “information attack.”
Saudi Arabia is responding to the recent attacks by providing weaponry to the rebel groups, which the West fears could fall into the hands of ISIS or other terrorist groups in the area. An unnamed Saudi official believes that allowing Assad to stay in power, even temporarily, would be the worst thing the West could do. Putin has since met with Saudi Arabia’s defence minister to discuss cooperation on Syria.
Between airstrikes and foreign aid to Syria, many countries have become involved in the conflict. On one side are Western forces attacking Assad and ISIS led by the US with Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar; and on the other side is Russia, Iran, aid from China, and Iraq defending Assad and attacking ISIS. President Obama fears that the situation in Syria could turn into a proxy war.
Western media argues Russia is involved in Syria to strengthen Assad’s regime; while Russian media argues that Western and Arab powers created ISIS and are funding them to oust Assad from power. Between the propaganda machines operating in the United States and Russia, it is difficult to conclude what is truly happening in the region.