Russia steps up airstrikes and offers the French help

Mr Putin's statement came as Russia's defence minister Sergey Shoygu said its warplanes have fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Picture: Getty
Mr Putin's statement came as Russia's defence minister Sergey Shoygu said its warplanes have fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces. Picture: Getty
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Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday called for airstrikes in Syria to be stepped up and ordered the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start co-operating with the French military on operations in Syria.

Mr Putin’s statement came as Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoygu said its warplanes have fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria’s Idlib and Aleppo provinces. The Islamic State group has positions in Aleppo province, and the Nusra militant group has a presence in Idlib.

Hours earlier, Russia had acknowledged that a terrorist bomb was responsible for the 31 October crash of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people aboard. IS claimed ­responsibility.

The plane crash and the weekend wave of terrorist attacks in Paris clearly have raised Russia’s determination to fight IS, although concern remains in the West that its Syria airstrikes are also targeting rebels who are opposed to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad but not affiliated with radical groups.

Mr Putin said a French aircraft carrier task force is to approach the Moskva soon and the cruiser is to “co-operate with them as with allies”.

Mr Shoigu also told a briefing conducted for Mr Putin yesterday that Russian bombers hit IS positions in Raqqa and Der-ez-Zor.

He added that the cruise missiles that hit the Aleppo and Idlib positions were fired from supersonic Tu-160 bombers and from Tu-95s, long-distance turboprop strategic bombers. Some of those long-distance aircraft started their missions from Russian territory, he said.

As Russia’s campaign in Syria intensifies, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the US for pursuing what he said was a contradictory and confusing policy in Syria.

In remarks on Russian television Mr Lavrov said that analysis of US attacks on IS militants in Syria over the past year indicates that the attacks are sparing the IS units that would pose the most threat to the Syrian army and Assad. The US wants to see Assad removed from power.