President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that Russia would not deploy ground troops to Syria, where it has been conducting air strikes against what it says are Islamic State targets.
“We are not planning on doing this (conducting a ground operation), and our Syrian friends know about this,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on state-run Rossiya-1 television channel.
Putin last month received parliamentary approval to launch an air campaign in the war-torn country, but authorities have staunchly denied they would send any ground troops.
Using modern jets and older Soviet aircraft, Russia has bombed command posts and training camps of what it says are radical “terrorists”, backing a ground offensive by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Putin said Sunday that the Russian operation’s objective was to “stabilize the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise.”
Speaking of the weaponry used in the strikes — including cruise missiles Russia fired from the Caspian Sea at targets more than 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) away — Putin dismissed the idea that Russia was in a “arms race” with the West.
“This is not about an arms race,” he said. “This is about the fact that modern weapons are improving, changing. In other countries, this is happening even faster than here. This is why we have to keep up.”
The Russian defense ministry said Sunday that its air force had struck 63 targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, destroying a “terrorist” command post and several defensive positions and ammunition depots.
The defense ministry also said progress had been made in talks with the Pentagon on avoiding accidents in Syrian airspace, as a US-led coalition is conducting a separate bombing campaign.
Putin brushed off criticism by the US-led coalition that the Russian air force was not providing it with sufficient advance notice prior to conducting strikes.
“I want to draw attention to the fact that nobody has ever warned us in the planning and beginning of operations of this kind,” Putin said. “But we did.”