Russia warships fire cruise missiles to back Syria ground offensive
MOSCOW - Russian warships joined in strikes in Syria with a volley of cruise missile attacks Wednesday as Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged his air force would back a ground offensive by government forces.
Ships from the Caspian Sea fleet launched 26 cruise missile strikes against 11 targets, Moscow said.
The Russian president also stressed the need for cooperation with a US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists, saying that without cooperation from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia the intervention was unlikely to work.
Russian efforts "will be synchronised with the actions of the Syrian army on the ground and the actions of our air force will effectively support the offensive operation of the Syrian army," Putin said at a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Russian forces have struck 112 targets in war-torn Syria since last week launching a bombing campaign that Moscow says is targeting the IS group, Shoigu told Putin in the televised briefing.
"Strikes have hit 112 targets from September 30 until today," Shoigu said. "The intensity of the strikes is increasing."
In a sign that Russia was ramping up its involvement, Shoigu said that four Russian warships had hit sites in Syria on Wednesday with cruise missiles.
"In addition to the air force, four warships of the Caspian flotilla have been involved," Shoigu said, adding that the warships had carried out 26 cruise missile strikes against 11 targets.
Russia began air strikes in Syria a week ago following a request by long-standing ally President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow insists it is hitting ISIS targets but the US and its allies fear that Moscow is aiming to bolster Assad's regime.
Putin also said that French leader Francois Hollande had suggested a possible plan to get government forces to combine efforts with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, the main moderate opposition group fighting the Damascus regime.
A Hollande aide later denied he had said any such thing. "The president spoke of the necessary presence of the Syrian opposition around a future negotiating table. The rest is not a French idea," he told reporters in Strasbourg.
"During my last visit to Paris, French President Hollande expressed an interesting idea according to which in his opinion it might be possible to at least to try to unite the efforts of the government troops of president Assad's army and the so-called Free Syrian Army," Putin said.
Putin met with Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a peace plan for Ukraine in Paris last Friday.