- Putin tells Russian state TV there are no plans for a ground operation
- Airstrikes are aimed at ISIS and other terrorist targets, he says
- Putin leaves open the door to U.S. cooperation in Syria
Russia has flown dozens of combat missions and launched more than 100 airstrikes since starting the Syria campaign September 30, according to figures from the Russian Defense Ministry. ISIS, Russia says, is a main target.
On Sunday, Russian air forces targeted 63 ISIS positions, including 53 strongholds, a command center, four training camps and seven ammunition depots, the ministry said.
A day earlier, Russian air forces struck 55 ISIS targets, including “the main and largest ISIS logistics centers,” ammunition depots and training camps, the ministry said.
“Our task is to stabilize the legitimate government and to create conditions for a political compromise,” Putin said in the interview with Russia 24.
“By military means, of course. The units of international terrorists and their ilk have no desire to negotiate with the Syrian government, who is almost sieged in its own capital.”
Asked about the possibility of a ground operation, Putin said, “We’re not going to do it, and our Syrian friends know about it.”
Syria’s war: Everything you need to know about how we got here
Putin said the airstrikes have a high degree of accuracy thanks to Russian intelligence-gathering over a long period of time.
“We were matching different kinds of information we received,” he said. “The specialists of the General Staff, in coordination with Syrian partners and other countries in the region, have created an information center in Baghdad. As a result of data exchange, we received additional information.
“So everything that is happening in skies and on the ground is not a spontaneous action, but the fulfillment of the previously envisaged plans.”
Why are Russian airstrikes in Syria a big deal?
The United States and other players have questioned Russia’s targets, suggesting the strikes are not primarily aimed at ISIS but at the Syrian opposition in a bid to strengthen the Syrian government’s position.
Putin said Moscow has no reason to join someone else’s fight.
“It is not about the foreign policy. Russian foreign policy is peace-loving without any exaggeration. If you look at the world map, and see what Russia is, it becomes obvious that we do not need any foreign territories or foreign natural resources. Russia is a self-sufficient country. We do not need someone to fight and conflict with,” he said.
Putin criticized the U.S. program to train Syrian rebels, which U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter admitted this summer trained only a handful of the thousands the United States had hoped to train. U.S. officials said Friday the $500 million program will be suspended.
“I wish they gave us $500 million. We would have spent it better in terms of fighting against international terrorism. It’s true. But, in any case, we need to work together to bring, as I said, a full exchange of intelligence information,” Putin said.
He repeated his offer to cooperate with the United States in carrying out attacks in Syria, despite Carter’s refusal last week.
“In response to the accusations against us that we carry out airstrikes on the moderate opposition, and not on ISIS and other terrorist organizations, we respond: Let’s say you know better the situation on the ground. You’ve been there for more than a year illegally. Just give us targets and we’ll work them out.”
Opinion: Putin’s Syria moves leave U.S. looking weak
CNN’s Alla Eshchenko and Don Melvin contributed to this report.
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