Kremlin launches airstrikes in Syria, despite Russian public's reluctance

The attack near Homs comes as the Russian parliament rubber-stamped the offensive in support of Bashar al-Assad.

Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin (c.) holds a meeting with senior government officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow on Wednesday. Russian military jets carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria on Wednesday for the first time, after President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary approval to send Russian troops to Syria.

Russia's parliament unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria Wednesday morning, even as the first Russian-piloted warplanes were reportedly already going into action near the Syrian city of Homs.

The scene in Russia's parliament – which gave legal cover to an action the Kremlin had already decided on – was strongly reminiscent of the use-of-force resolution granted Mr. Putin in early March of last year to send Russian forces into Ukraine – several days after the operation had actually begun. In that case official Moscow fibbed volubly about the role of Russian special forces in taking over Crimea until Putin admitted it about a month later.

Asked by CBS's Charlie Rose in an interview aired just last Sunday if Russia was preparing to deploy combat troops to fight Islamic State positions in Syria, Putin answered: "Russia will not take part in any field operations on the territory of Syria or in other states; at least, we do not plan it for now. But we are thinking of how to intensify our work both with President [Bashar] al-Assad and our partners in other countries."

But now it's official. The Kremlin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian military action would be limited to airstrikes, and that the purpose of the deployment was "to fight terrorism and to support the legitimate Syrian leadership in the fight against terrorism and extremism."

Kremlin officials have also pointed out that Russian assistance was requested by Syria's government, thus making it legal. Moscow has already  complained that US-led airstrikes in Syria, which lack an invitation from Damascus, are not.

"You all know well that in the territory of Syria and Iraq … a number of countries are carrying out bombing strikes, including the United States. These actions do not conform with international law. To be legal they should be supported either by a resolution of the UN Security Council, or be backed by a request from the country where the raids are taking place," Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov told journalists Wednesday.

Amid these developments, Russian media have been hammering home the message that there will be "no boots on the ground." That suggests the Kremlin is looking nervously over its shoulder at Russian public opinion, and its well-known aversion to any foreign military involvement since the former USSR's disastrous incursion into Afghanistan.

That may be a well-founded worry. A poll released Tuesday by the Levada Center, Russia's only independent polling agency, found that 69 percent of Russians are opposed to direct military involvement in Syria's civil war, with only 14 percent in favor. More than two-thirds of respondents favored extending diplomatic and political support to the Syrian regime, but fewer than half supported even limited military aid, such as training and advising Syrian forces.

"People are clearly scared that once we go into Syria we might get bogged down," says Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "They are really afraid of a large-scale war that could involve our military conscripts, and touch upon the lives of their own families."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Kremlin launches airstrikes in Syria, despite Russian public's reluctance
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today