Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the time has come for the “next level” of strikes on the Islamic State group in Syria, as Moscow informed Lebanon that it would be carrying out a drill inside its airspace over the Mediterranean Sea in the coming days.
According to Israel’s Walla news website, citing the Russian media, Putin told his military leaders via conference call that while “objectives in Syria are being achieved well, it is not enough to rid the country of possible terrorist attacks.”
Russia, which has conducted an air campaign in Syria since Sept. 30, on Tuesday sharply raised the intensity of its strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, following confirmation that a Russian plane that crashed in Egypt last month was downed by a bomb, which IS said it had planted.
Moscow asked Lebanon on Friday to ensure that flights from Beirut airport avoid an area over the eastern Mediterranean for the coming three days, Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter said.
Zeaiter said that Russia “has asked the Lebanese authorities that planes leaving Beirut airport towards the west avoid overflying an area in Mediterranean territorial waters because of maneuvers on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.” He added that Beirut had “reservations about the Russian request and was studying it.”
Targeting IS income
Russia’s defense minister said Friday that the military has destroyed numerous oil facilities and tankers controlled by IS in Syria, sharply cutting its income.
Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin on Friday that Russian warplanes had destroyed 15 oil refining and storage facilities in Syria and 525 trucks carrying oil during this week’s bombing blitz. He said this deprived the IS of $1.5 million in daily income from oil sales.
The Russian leader has discussed cooperation on fighting the IS during his meetings with President Barack Obama and other Western leaders at the sidelines of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations in Turkey earlier this week.
French President Francois Hollande is set to travel to Washington and Moscow next week for talks on joint military action against IS, and Putin already has ordered the military to cooperate with the French “like with allies.”
Russian state TV on Friday showed Russian air force ground crew writing “For Ours!” and “For Paris!” on bombs being attached to Russian warplanes.
According to Shoigu, Russian warplanes have flown 522 sorties and destroyed over 800 targets over the last four days. Russian long-range bombers and navy ships have launched 101 cruise missiles in four days, including 18 fired by Russian navy ships from the Caspian Sea on Friday.
Shoigu said the strikes this week inflicted significant casualties on the IS, including more than 600 militants killed in just one strike in the province of Deir el-Zour. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
US and French planes have also struck at oil targets in Deir el-Zour and elsewhere.
Putin hailed the military’s performance, but added that “there is still a lot of work to do … to rid Syria of militants and terrorists and protect Russia from possible terror attacks.” Putin has ruled out Russian ground action in Syria, a position reaffirmed Friday by his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.