Russia plans no infantry ops in Syria; Moscow would consider Iraq strikes if asked

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Russian-Sukhoi-SU-30-SMMOSCOW, Oct 6, (Agencies): Russia is not conducting operations in Syria involving its own ground troops and will not do so, Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov, the head of the lower house of parliament’s defence committee, said on Tuesday, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. Komoyedov, who on Monday had said it was likely that Russian volunteers would travel to Syria to fight there, was also quoted as saying that Russia was blocking any attempts by its citizens to fight on either side in the Syrian conflict.

On Monday, Komoyedov, who heads the defence committee at Russian parliament’s lower house, told the Interfax news agency that a unit of Russian volunteers could join the Syrian army. “Given that Russians are already fighting alongside the Islamic State, we can think that others will want to fight in the ranks of the Syrian army,” Komoyedov told AFP on Tuesday. But he stressed that Russia would not support any citizen-led initiatives to take part in conflicts beyond the country’s borders. “The Russian state has nothing to do with them,” he said. Under Russian law, individuals can face up to seven years in prison if found guilty of taking part in an armed conflict abroad.

Russia last week announced the launch of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria, but Putin ruled out sending ground troops to the war-torn country. The foreign ministry reiterated Tuesday that Russia’s involvement in Syria would be limited to its current air campaign. “Volunteers are not being called upon, enlisted or campaigned for,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing. Separately, a high-ranking military official in Syria told AFP that claims Moscow was allegedly preparing for a ground intervention was a Western attempt at diminishing Russia’s role. “Our Russian friends are merely conducting air strikes against terrorist groups,” the official said.

Meanwhile, Russia will consider extending its air strikes against militants in Syria to Iraq if it receives such a request from Baghdad, the RIA news agency quoted the head of the country’s upper chamber of parliament as saying on Tuesday. The speaker, Valentina Matviyenko, said Russia had so far not received such a request from the Iraqi government. Russia’s defence ministry on Tuesday dismissed as “absolute lies” claims that its jets had bombed the Syrian city of Palmyra after Syrian state TV reported the strikes. “All reports by foreign media that Russian planes have allegedly conducted air strikes against the city of Palmyra are absolute lies,” ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, Russian news wires reported. “Our aviation in Syria does not attack residential areas nor — especially not — the architectural monuments there,” he said.

Syrian state television reported Tuesday that Russian warplanes bombed targets in and around the Syrian city of Palmyra in Moscow’s first strikes against the Islamic State group-controlled area. The state broadcaster cited a military source as saying that the Russian air force in coordination with Syrian air force had struck IS targets “in and around” the city. It said the strikes had destroyed “20 armoured vehicles, three ammunition warehouses and three rocket launchers.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the Palmyra strikes were launched overnight and killed at least 15 IS fighters and injured dozens more. IS seized control of Palmyra in May and has realised international fears by destroying some of the most prized sites in the UNESCO World Heritage listed ancient city. Russia last week launched air strikes in Syria at the request of its long-standing ally President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow insists it is going after IS targets in the war-torn country but the US and its allies fears the aim of the intervention is to bolster the Syrian government.

Russia has informed the United States that Moscow is willing to continue talks to ensure that the two countries’ aircraft don’t interfere with each other over Syria, senior US military officials said Tuesday. But a Russian defense official said the talks should be much broader than what the Pentagon is seeking. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said a response to the Pentagon’s request for talks came through the US Embassy in Moscow and reached US Defense Secretary Ash Carter while he was flying from Moron Air Base in Spain to Sigonella, Italy. “We look forward to the formal response from the Russians and learning the details,” Cooke said. “We stand ready to meet again to continue our earlier discussion as soon as possible.” Earlier Tuesday, Carter had called on Russian leaders to contact the Pentagon immediately to discuss Moscow’s military activities in Syria, reflecting urgent concerns about Russian aircraft violating Turkish airspace. NATO on Monday denounced Russia for “irresponsible behavior” for allowing its warplanes to cross into Turkey. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said the Russians want broad discussions on international cooperation between Russia and the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. “Regrettably, the Americans would like to limit our cooperation to technical issues relating to interaction between our pilots while on relevant missions,” Antonov said Tuesday. “The Americans have handed us a document, on which we are working,” he said. US and Russian officials met once by video conference late last week, before the incursion into the airspace of Turkey, which borders Syria. Carter said the US has been waiting for a second meeting on how to avoid any accidents or miscalculations in the increasingly crowded skies over Syria.

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