Russia's president Vladimir Putin says Moscow is supporting the opposition Free Syrian Army in joint operations with regular Syrian forces against Islamist militants, even as it backs Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the FSA's enemy. Mana Rabiee reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement has taken many by surprise. Despite having bombed anti-Assad rebel forces in Syria over the past two months, he now says Russian forces are SUPPORTING the strongest of those groups, the Free Syrian Army to fight their common enemy, Islamic State. He says Moscow is providing weapons, ammunition and other material support the group, in JOINT OPERATIONS with Syrian troops fighting IS. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, SAYING: "The activities of our aviation group assists in uniting the efforts of government troops and the Free Syrian Army. Currently several of its units numbering over 5,000 troops as well as regular forces are engaged in offensive actions against terrorists in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa." Western and Arab states also carrying out air strikes against Islamic State in Syria have been at odds with Russia over its military intervention there… saying Russian jets have been focusing their attacks mainly on anti-Assad rebel forces, rather than IS. Putin's announcement comes amid suggestions by his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, that a U.S.-led coalition in Syria could be a potentially effective partner.... perhaps the first signs of an emerghing, more unified international response to Islamic State.