President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday secured parliament’s unanimous backing to launch air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, paving the way for imminent Russian military intervention in its closest Middle East ally.
The move, which sets the stage for Russia’s biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, was announced as Syrian government warplanes conducted heavy strikes in Homs province and the United States and its allies struck Islamic State targets.
Russia, which has been steadily dispatching more and more military aircraft to a base in Latakia, declined to say when it would launch its own strikes, but made it clear it too would be targeting Islamic State militants.
As part of its preparations, Moscow has already sent military experts to a recently established command center in Baghdad which is coordinating air strikes and ground troops in Syria, a Russian official told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the center is used to share information on possible air strikes in Syria.
Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin’s Chief of Staff said Russia’s missions would be limited and not open-ended and precluded the use of ground troops.
“As our president has already said, the use of ground troops has been ruled out. The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS (Islamic State),” he said.
The decision to get involved militarily in Syria will be a further challenge for Moscow, which is already intervening in Ukraine at…