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The Russian Orthodox Church has backed the country's parliamentary decision to give President Vladimir Putin permission to use military force in Syria, saying the fight against terrorism is a "holy war".
The head of Synodal department for church and society, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, told journalists on 30 September that the decision from the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, to authorise air strikes in Syria was "consistent with international law, the mentality of our people and the role that our country has always played in the Middle East", according to Interfax news agency.
He added that Russia cannot be indifferent while Christians and other minority groups are being destroyed in the region. The interreligious council of Russia released a statement in support of military operations against terrorism in the Middle East. "The fight against terrorism is a holy struggle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world to combat terrorism," the priest said.
Under the Russian constitution, the president needs parliamentary approval to legally use the military outside of the country. Putin last sought such authorisation before annexing Crimea in March 2014.
Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said the military was to fight Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria, upon a request from President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian presidency confirmed it required military assistance to fight terrorism. According to US officials, Russia conducted its first air strikes on rebel-held areas of Homs.
The move comes after Moscow has consistently beefed up its presence in the war-torn country. In recent weeks, Russia has shipped some of its most advanced military hardware to Syria, reportedly including dozens of fighter jets, in a bid to shore up the Assad regime, its long time and only ally in the region.
On 28 September, Putin used a speech at the UN General Assembly to portray the dictator as the only viable option to counter IS extremists in the region, also opening the door to a possible collaboration with a US-led coalition bombing the Islamist group.
However, in an interview with CBS television, he ruled out plans for Russia to immediately to take part in any direct military action in Syria. He said: "Russia will not participate in any troop operations in the territory of Syria or in any other states. Well, at least we don't plan on it right now. But we are considering intensifying our work with both President Assad and with our partners in other countries."