Russian warplanes and helicopter gunships took off Wednesday from the country’s air base in Syrian coastal province of Latakia only days ahead of peace talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Moscow, an Assad’s supporter, has been carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria since late 2015, though Western governments accuse Russia of targeting Syrian rebels backed by the U.S. and its allies.
The Syrian government and the opposition are scheduled to hold talks on political settlement in Geneva Monday while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to meet in Switzerland Wednesday to decide who would join the U.N.-mediated peace talks, AP reported. The Syrian war, which began in 2011, has witnessed killings of scores of civilians and has dislocated several others.
According to AP, Helicopter gunships were flying low around the base as a part of routine patrol to prevent any possible attack. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov had reportedly said Tuesday that the Russian warplanes flew 157 sorties hitting 579 targets in six Syrian regions over the past four days.
Russia has also deployed Moskva missile cruiser and S-400 missiles to the Hemeimeem airbase in Latakia after Turkey shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-245M fighter jet along the Syrian border on Nov. 24. 2015. Ankara had accused Moscow of violating Turkish airspace -- a claim consistently denied by Russia. The Kremlin warned Turkey that it would destroy any target that might pose danger to the airbase.