Russian military jets deployed in Syria on Wednesday carried out some 20 combat missions striking at least eight ISIL targets located in mountainous regions, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
"As a result of airstrikes ammunition and fuel depots, heavy military hardware, as well as command posts in the mountainous areas have been destroyed," spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Konashenkov added that all sorties were carried out after thorough reconnaissance and close coordination with the Syrian army.
He also stressed that the Russian planes did not target civilian facilities or their vicinity.
Now that Russia has officially begun conducting airstrikes on anti-regime forces operating in Syria, commentators, pundits, and analysts around the world will be keen to compare and contrast the results of Moscow’s efforts with the year-old US-led air campaign against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.
Clearly, Russia has a very real incentive to ensure that its airstrikes are effective.
Preserving the global balance of power means preserving the Assad regime and, by extension, ensuring that Iran maintains its regional influence.
On the other hand, the US and its regional allies actually have an incentive to ensure that their airstrikes are minimally effective. That is, for the US, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, the idea is not to kill Frankenstein, but rather to ensure that he doesn’t escape the lab.
As we documented earlier today, Russia wasted no time launching strikes against anti-regime targets once the country's lawmakers gave the official go-ahead and the West wasted no time accusing Russia of breaking protocol by targeting "modetrate" Syrian rebels (like al-Qeada) that aren't aligned with ISIS.
It's against that backdrop that we present the following footage released by the Russain Ministry of Defensewhich depicts the opening salvo in The Kremlin's battle against terrorism in the Middle East (note the vehicle traveling towards the compound at a particularly inopportune time towards the end).
And predictably, Western media reports regarding civilian casualties and Russia's alleged targeting of "moderate" rebels (as opposed to ISIS) were countered by Moscow's sharp-tongued spokeswoman and US foreign policy critic extraordinaire Maria Zakharova.
Russia has struck eight Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) targets in Syria, the country’s Defense Ministry said, adding that "civilian infrastructure" was avoided during the operations.
“Today, Russian aerospace force jets delivered pinpoint strikes on eight ISIS terror group targets in Syria. In total, 20 flights were made,” spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said.
“As a result, arms and fuel depots and military equipment were hit. ISIS coordination centers in the mountains were totally destroyed,” he added.
Konashenkov said that all the flights took place after air surveillance and careful verification of the data provided by the Syrian military. He stressed that Russian jets did not target any civilian infrastructure and avoided these territories.
“Russian jets did not use weapons on civilian infrastructure or in its vicinity,” he said.
Reuters reported that Russia targeted opposition rebel groups in Homs province instead of Islamic State forces. The agency cited Syrian opposition chief Khaled Khoja, who put the death toll of the bombardment at 36 civilians.
"Russia is intending not to fight ISIL [Islamic State], but to prolong the life of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad," Khoja said.
Similar claims were made by the BBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera and numerous other news outlets.
Moscow harshly criticized the reports, labeling them an information war.
“Russia didn’t even begin its operation against Islamic State… Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov didn’t even utter his first words at the UN Security Council, but numerous reports already emerged in the media that civilians are dying as a result of the Russian operation and that it’s aimed at democratic forces in the country (Syria),” Maria Zakharova, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told media.
For those who missed it, see here for our assessment of the Western media's take on the first round of Russian airstrikes (and by the way we, like Maria, were surprised at how quickly the propaganda machine kicked into high gear). Here is the bottom line:
The bottom line going forward is that the US and its regional and European allies are going to have to decide whether they want to be on the right side of history here or not, and as we've been careful to explain, no one is arguing that Bashar al-Assad is the most benevolent leader in the history of statecraft but it has now gotten to the point where Western media outlets are describing al-Qaeda as "moderate" in a last ditch effort to explain away Washington's unwillingness to join Russia in stabilizing Syria.
This is a foreign policy mistake of epic proportions on the part of the US and the sooner the West concedes that and moves to correct it by admitting that none of the groups the CIA, the Pentagon, and Washington's Mid-East allies have trained and supported represent a viable alternative to the Assad regime, the sooner Syria will cease to be the chessboard du jour for a global proxy war that's left hundreds of thousands of innocent people dead.
"No sooner had [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov uttered his first words at the Security Council, than numerous reports emerged in Western, regional, including Ukrainian media, that the military operation carried out by Russia had killed civilians, almost as if this operation was aimed at democratic forces and the civilian population," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told LifeNews television.
"I want to tell you that all this is the very information attack, the information war we have heard so much about, and for which someone, apparently, prepared very well."
In part, Zakharova is referring to comments from the Pentagon. The US Defense Department has accused Moscow of bombing targets where "there were probably no Islamic State militants." But much of this finger-pointing stems from Washington’s own interest in ousting the legitimate administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Fighting ISIL without pursuing a parallel political transition only risks escalating the civil war in Syria, and with it the very extremism and instability that Moscow claims to be concerned about and aspire to fighting," US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters on Wednesday.
Moscow was quick to respond.
"It’s all been said by the Russian Defense Ministry," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, "do not listen to Pentagon allegations about our airstrikes."
Russia’s newest nuclear-powered submarine, the Alexander Nevsky, arrived in the far eastern Kamchatka region Wednesday, carrying Bulava nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, the Russian state news service Tass reported. The submarine, now a part of Moscow's nuclear deterrent, arrives at its new port during a time of rapid Russian military modernization and renewed rivalry with the United States and NATO.
The submarine, which is in the new Borei-class, made the journey from the Northern Fleet to the port of Vilyuchinsk in the farthest reaches of the country. It will join the Pacific Fleet, where its primary job will be to conduct strategic nuclear deterrence patrols in the Pacific Ocean, according to Tass.
Over the last few years Moscow has moved rapidly to modernize the archaic Soviet hardware built during the Cold War. New extensive investment, expected to be total $400 billion by 2020, has seen Russia launch advanced fifth-generation stealth fighters, modern tanks and advanced ships over the last six years. It has also refitted its army with state-of-the-art weaponry and armor.
The advancement in capability has allowed the country to better exert itself against its neighbors, as has been seen in Georgia in 2008 and in the current Ukraine war, where Moscow is assisting pro-Russian rebels.
Each Bulava missile can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads, which means the Alexander Nevsky is armed with 160 warheads. The missile has a range of more than 5,000 miles. Russia's first Borei-class submarine, the Yuriy Dolgorukiy, was inducted into the Northern Fleet in January 2013. Moscow plans to build eight Borei-class nuclear submarines by 2020.
The navy has postponed the arrival of another Borei-class sub, the Vladimir Monomakh, in the Pacific because it is yet to complete its trials, according to Tass.