Russia said Friday it is supplying weapons and air support to the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is fighting against terrorists in Syria. The comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin came during a meeting with the Russian defense ministry.
"The work of our aviation group assists in uniting the efforts of government troops and the Free Syrian Army," Putin said, according to local news network RT. "Now several of its units numbering over 5,000 troops are engaged in offensive actions against terrorists, alongside regular forces, in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa," he said, referring to the Free Syrian Army.
"We support it from the air, as well as the Syrian army, we assist them with weapons, ammunition and provide material support," Putin added.
Putin’s comments come amid heightened tensions between Russia and Turkey after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border late November. Turkey says the Su-24 jet was downed because it violated the country’s sovereign airspace. However, the Kremlin denies the allegation.
Meanwhile, Putin also said that jihadis in Syria, including the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and other extremists, posed a direct threat to Russia, and that the Russian military will take "extremely tough" action against any threat to its forces.
"Any targets threatening our [military] group or land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed," Putin said, according to Reuters.
Putin also said that the military actions in Syria were not being carried out because of geopolitical interests, but only with an aim to target the ISIS. The offensives against extremists have been able to change the situation in the war-torn nation, he added.
"I won't give exact figures now because this will be said by the defense minister in his report, but I'll say the main thing. The combined use of force from the Aerospace Forces and the Navy, the use of the newest precise systems of weaponry has allowed us to deliver serious damage to the infrastructure of terrorists, and has seriously changed the situation in Syria," Putin reportedly said.
Russia says that its bombers are attacking ISIS and other jihadi groups in Syria, helping the government forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Western analysts and Syrian rebel sources say that most of Russia’s military presence in Syria is aimed at keeping long-term Russian ally Assad in power.