The Kremlin has admitted that air strikes in Syria are hitting a list of militant organisations opposed to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad – not only Islamic State (Isis) – bolstering Western fears that Vladimir Putin's real purpose in Syria is to help Assad reclaim lost territory.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the military operation in Syria was wider than initially framed. "These organisations [on the target list] are well-known and the targets are chosen in co-ordination with the armed forces of Syria."
Moscow had initially referred to IS as the primary object for the campaign, warning that Russian and other ex-Soviet citizens fighting in the group would launch attacks in their home countries if they were not stopped in Syria.
The US and rebels on the ground claimed Russian strikes had not targeted IS militants, hitting instead US- and Western-backed rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) among others. A rebel base was destroyed by the raids and a leader of the group, Lyad al-Deek, was also killed in an air strike in Homs province.
The apparent Russian U-turn took place after Russian jets carried out at least 30 fresh air strikes in Syria, including attacks on the rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughour in the north west. Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV reported that the areas, which are strongholds of the Jaysh al-Fath (Army of Conquest) opposition group, were targeted by Russian jets. Jaysh al-Fath is a coalition of rebels including al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, Ahrar ash-Sham and other Islamist groups. There is no reported IS presence in Idlib, confirming speculations that Russia is trying to help Assad regain ground in those areas.
The Russia's ministry of defence, instead, said it is targeting the Islamic State (Isis) in Idlib today (1 October):