Russia’s motivations in the Syrian conflict go beyond targeting Islamic State (IS), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says, as Russia announces it will intensify air strikes in the war-torn country.
Ms Bishop told the ABC’s Insiders program the situation in Syria had become more complicated as a result of Russia’s intervention.
“There’s no doubt that they claim to be targeting ISIL … Daesh,” she said.
“There have been a number of statements by both president Putin and foreign minister Lavrov, but we understand that they are also broadening their attacks into part of Syria where ISIL or Daesh are not apparent and so it would appear that Russia’s motivations go beyond just targeting Daesh.”
Moscow said its military intervention was weakening IS militants but some Western powers said it aimed to support president Bashar al-Assad.
Western-backed rebels hit
Russia said in the last 24 hours it had targeted a command post and underground weapons bunker near Raqqa, the eastern Syrian stronghold of the IS militants, as well as a weapons store in Maarat al-Numaan.
Maarat al-Numaan, in Syria’s northern province of Idlib, is not known as an IS base.
A video shared online showed air strikes in Idlib, where local activists reported that an archaeological area was believed to have been targeted by Russians.
Most fighters in the area are from the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and other insurgent groups, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.
The Russian air strikes hit at least four rebel factions operating under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army which received significant military support from states which oppose Mr Assad, rebel fighters said this week.
Some were trained in the use of guided anti-tank missiles as part of an assistance program that, in some cases, included training overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency in countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
This program is separate to the US Defence Department’s train and equip program aimed at fighting Islamic State. The anti-tank weapons, supplied by states opposed to Mr Assad, were an important factor in insurgent advances this year.