Russia has fired at least four cruise missiles at Islamic State (Isis) targets near Palmyra on Wednesday, 31 May. Moscow's ministry of defence said the sophisticated missiles were launched from the frigate (Admiral Essen) and submarine (Krasnodar) stationed in the Mediterranean.

The Russian defence ministry said the Kalibr missiles had destroyed several positions and hideouts of the Islamists in their strongholds. Heavily armed militants, who moved from Raqqa to the areas east of Palmyra, were targeted in the missile strike.

A statement from the ministry said: "The Russian Navy's Admiral Essen frigate and Krasnodar submarine performed a launch of four Kalibr cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean against the targets of the IS [Daesh] terrorist groups in the area of Palmyra. All targets have been destroyed."

Russia's defense ministry said that the strikes successfully hit IS heavy weapons and fighters whom the group who had deployed and moved to Palmyra from the IS stronghold of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Sunni militant group and its self-proclaimed caliphate.

The commands of other nations such as the US, Israel and Turkey were notified in advance of the missile strike.

Subsequent to the cruise missile strikes, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu briefed President Vladimir Putin of the attack.

The Admiral Essen frigate joined Russia's Mediterranean fleet only in early May. The Kalibr is Russia's new supersonic cruise missile system, first put to military use in 2015.

Putin and Assad
Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad AFP / Reuters

Russia, a staunch Damascus ally, has been providing air cover to Syrian President Bashar Assad's offensive on the IS since 2015.

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes captured Palmyra in March last year and Moscow even flew in one of its best classical musicians to play a triumphant concert at Palmyra's ancient theater. IS forces, however, recaptured Palmyra eight months later before Syrian government troops drove them out again in March this year. Fighting around Palmyra continues.

Russia has been busy mediating between Assad and Turkey and the West who seek his removal. Earlier this month Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to establish safe zones in Syria, signing on to a Russian plan under which Assad's air force would halt flights over designated areas across the war-torn country. Russia says maps delineating the zones should be ready by June 4.