PARIS (AP) — Russia on Thursday insisted its warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same terrorists targeted by the United States and contradicted American criticism that its military failed to coordinate the airstrikes, describing the allegations as a “war of disinformation.”
Alexander Orlov, the Russian ambassador to France, said Moscow’s intervention came only after a year of airstrikes by the U.S. and its partners failed to dislodge Islamic State extremists, and predicted that Syria could be ready for “free elections” within a year.
The Russian Defense Ministry said its warplanes on Wednesday targeted and destroyed eight positions belonging to extremists from the IS group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, in what President Vladimir Putin called a pre-emptive strike against the militants.
The ministry gave no specific locations, but Orlov said the targets were installations for Islamic State and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria. Orlov told France Info radio the planes were acting as air support for Syrian ground troops.
The U.S. and Russia agree on the need to fight the Islamic State but not about what to do with President Bashar Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against Assad, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and Europe.
“We see that this coalition has been operating in Syria for a year, 5,000 airstrikes have been carried out, and Islamic State is still there,” Orlov said.
With American and allied airstrikes daily, and now Russian warplanes in the Syrian airspace, the war is taking on a dangerous new dimension. Orlov said Russian officials warned the Americans “via confidential channels” of where they planned to strike. He also noted a coordination center was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians — and any other country that wants to participate.
Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed 36 civilians, with five children among the dead. The claim could not be independently verified.
“There has been a certain war of disinformation for some time and everyone is trying to discredit each other,” Orlov said. “We are acting transparently.”
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