Russia is not planning to expand air raids to Iraq, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday, a day after Moscow carried out its first airstrike in Syria.
“We are not planning to expand our airstrikes to Iraq. We were not invited, we were not asked, and we are polite people, as you know. We do not come if not invited,” Lavrov told a press conference at the United Nations.
On Wednesday, Russian warplanes struck targets inside Syria for the first time. Moscow, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, says the jets hit Daesh positions. The US and its allies expressed concerns about reports that strikes were targeting non-Daesh opponents of Al-Assad.
A US-led coalition has been striking Daesh in Syria since September, building upon an aerial campaign already hitting the terrorist group in Iraq.
Lavrov said that Russian airstrikes were targeting only Daesh and affiliated terrorist groups.
“This is the same position which the Americans are taking,” he said. “The representatives of the coalition command have always been saying that their targets are ISIL, Al-Nusra and other terrorist groups. This is basically our position as well. We see eye-to-eye with the coalition on this one,” he said using another acronym for Daesh.
Regarding who Russia considers as terrorists, Lavrov said: “If it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist and if it fights like a terrorist – it is a terrorist.”
According to the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, the Russian airstrikes resulted in the deaths of 36 civilians, including five children. The areas targeted by Russia were free of any Daesh or Al-Qaeda presence, the group’s chief Khaled Khoja said in New York on Wednesday.
“The Russian occupation will be met with a liberation movement from the Syrian people. We have the right to do it,” Khoja said, adding that the Free Syrian Army is prepared to confront the Russian “occupation”.
Lavrov said Russia does not consider the Free Syrian Army a terrorist group.
“We believe that the Free Syrian Army should be a part of the political process,” he said.
Syria’s devastating civil war, now in its fifth year, has claimed more than 250,000 lives, according to UN figures, and made the country the world’s single-largest source of refugees and displaced people.