Russia’s Upper House of Parliament approved the deployment of Russian troops abroad to facilitate Russian air support for the Syrian military’s fight against Islamic State. The decision came after meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as well as between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the sidelines of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly.  

Photo courtesy of ITAR-TASS/Alexey Pantsikov

Wednesday, September 30, the Russian Federation Council has granted permission to the Russian Presidency to use military forces of the Russian Federation abroad. The decision was unanimous with 162 concurrent votes with no abstention.

Sergey Ivanov, the Kremlin Chief of Staff, addressed the press commenting on both the parliament’s decision, the reasons, scope and practicalities of the deployment of Russian troops abroad.

Ivanov noted that the decision concerned Russian air support in the fight against Islamic State, a.k.a. ISIS,ISIL or Daesh. The Kremlin Chief of Staff stressed that the deployment of ground troops to Syria was out of the question.

Ivanov also noted that all financial and social issues pertaining the support of Russian servicemen who will participate in the mission will be solved and that respective decisions already had been approved.

Ivanov stressed that the Russian Federation exclusively would use its air force against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on request of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Ivanov said:

“The operation’s military goal is exclusively air support of the Syrian armed forces in their fight against ISIL. … This operation by the Russian Air Force is limited in time and the types of the used weapons are not disclosed. … All our partners and allies will be informed today about the decision. Specific information will probably be shared with defense ministries as well.”

Following the approval by the Russian Federation Council this deployment will be consistent with Russian legislation. Moreover, it will be the only deployment of air force units in the fight against ISIL in Syria that is conducted in compliance with international law. None of the members of the U.S.-led “alliance against ISIS” have the approval from the Syrian government or a mandate from the UN Security Council.

The decision came after Moscow, last week, signaled that it was prepared to deploy Russian troops to Syria and after Syrian Foreign and Expatriates Minister Walid Al-Muallem signaled that Syria would call for Russia’s assistance if needed.

Wednesday’s approval of the deployment by Russia’s Upper House of Parliament also followed meetings between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City.

The Syrian government and military have repeatedly complained that the United States, Turkey, and other members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL create a de-facto no fly zone for the Syrian Arab Air Force, thus hindering the Syrian Arab Army from receiving air support.

The Russian Air Force deployment is likely to fill in this vacuum, considering that the downing of a Russian jet or helicopter by “coalition forces” has inherently different implications than the downing of  a Syrian jet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior Russian diplomats have repeatedly called on the United States, the UK, France and other leading members of the so-called coalition against the Islamic State to recognize the need for building a truly international alliance in the fight against ISIS and in the fight against terrorism in general.

Liaoning-CV-16_China_NavyKremlin Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov also stressed that thousands of citizens of the Russian Federation had joined ISIL and that these people sooner or later would return. The use of Russian Forces against ISIL, he added, is also a matter of Russian national security.

Russia has currently stationed about 1,700 troops in Syria. The deployment of most of these troops is related to the Russian Naval Base in Tartous.

It is noteworthy that China also signaled increased willingness to participate in a truly international coalition against terrorism. The clearest signal Beijing thus far has sent was the deployment of its aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 to the Mediterranean. On September 25 the carrier, accompanied by a guided missile cruiser, docked at the Russian Naval Base in Tartous, Syria.

Russian Su-24 bombing ISIS 30th Sep 2015

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