Vladimir Putin holds first talks with Western leaders since Syria strikes
President Vladimir Putin comes face to face with Western leaders on Friday for the first time since Moscow launched air strikes in Syria amid a growing rift over whom they are targeting.
Paris: President Vladimir Putin comes face to face with Western leaders on Friday for the first time since Moscow launched air strikes in Syria amid a growing rift over whom they are targeting.
Putin will be in Paris for a peace summit on the Ukraine conflict, but Russia's sudden intervention in Syria looks set to dominate as he holds talks with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Russia insists it is bombing Islamic State jihadists and other groups, but Western nations are highly sceptical and believe it is trying to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow's long-time ally.
The Russian air strikes will last for three to four months and will increase in intensity, a Putin ally and senior lawmaker warned today.
"There is always a risk of getting bogged down but in Moscow they're talking about three to four months of operations," Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, told France's Europe 1 radio.
Pushkov said more than 2,500 air strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria had failed to inflict significant damage on IS jihadists, but Russia's campaign would be more intensive.
"I think it's the intensity that is important. The US-led coalition has pretended to bomb Daesh (another name for Islamic State) for a year, without results.
"If you do it in a more efficient way, I think you'll see results," he said.
Pushkov refuted suggestions from Western nations that Russian planes were mainly bombing rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but not IS.
"The main target are the Daesh groups situated closest to Damascus," Pushkov insisted.
Russia's defence ministry said its second day of bombing had hit five IS targets, including a command post in northwest Idlib province.
But a Syrian security source said the strikes had targeted Islamist rebels that fiercely oppose IS, and US-backed rebel group Suqur al-Jabal said Russian warplanes attacked its training camp in Idlib.
French President Francois Hollande, who will meet Putin first for talks, expressed his concern at the choice of targets, saying whether it was the US-led coalition or Russia carrying them out the target must be IS.
"It is Daesh which must be targeted, not other groups," Hollande said yesterday.