David Cameron warned last night that Russian airstrikes in Syria against anyone other than Islamic State would be a “retrograde step” as reports emerged of bombing in areas controlled by forces opposed to President Assad.
Speaking hours after Russian military jets carried out their first airstrikes in Syria, the Prime Minister said the UK will need to look “very carefully” at exactly what Russian involvement in the country will entail.
“We will need to look very carefully at exactly what has happened. I have a clear view that if this is a part of international action against Isil, that appalling terrorist death cult outfit, then that is all to the good,” Mr Cameron said, during a visit to Jamaica.
“If, on the other hand, this is action against the Free Syrian Army in support of Assad the dictator, then obviously that is a retrograde step but let us see exactly what has happened.”
The Russian parliament voted in favour of military intervention in the country yesterday after receiving a request for assistance from President Bashar Assad. US officials said they were given one hour’s notice of the bombing.
President Vladimir Putin yesterday sought to portray the airstrikes as a pre-emptive attack against the Islamic militants who have taken over large swathes of Syria and Iraq.
But a senior US official said that the airstrikes, reportedly in the rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama, do not appear to be targeting IS because the militants have no presence in the western provinces.
Last night Mr Putin said Russia will not “plunge into this conflict head-on”. Moscow has already ruled out sending ground troops to Syria.l
He has also said he expects Mr Assad to seek a political agreement with his opposition in Syria.
Russia’s decision to become militarily involved in Syria was backed yesterday by a number of senior Conservative MPs who believe working with Mr Assad is the “lesser evil” in the fight against Islamic State.
Colonel Bob Stewart, a member of parliament’s defence select committee, welcomed the decision despite Russia’s support of the Assad regime, stating “in order to defeat the great Satan you might have to put up with a lesser devil as well”.
The Conservative MP for Beckenham said: “I am pleased that the Russians have said they are going to intervene and I hope very much that it helps contribute to the extinguishing of this appalling threat to mankind.”
Meanwhile, James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire and fellow defence select committee member, also welcomed the decision.
He said: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend, to some degree.
“You can’t fight both Assad and IS at the same time.”
The Russian vote came after President Putin met US President Barack Obama at the United Nations to discuss the situation in Syria.
The US and its allies have insisted that President Assad should leave office but Russia has backed its ally to stay in power.
Russia’s decision to intervene with its air power adds a new potency to the brutal four-year civil war in Syria that has resulted in at least 250,000 deaths and forced millions to flee the country.
The war is also responsible for the record-breaking numbers of asylum seekers who have been heading into Europe this summer.