Putin: Russia Backing Free Syrian Army in Fight Against Islamists

Providing Rebels Air Cover, Arms for Battles

In a statement today, Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time reported Russia is directly arming a Syrian rebel faction, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in their fight against various Islamist factions. In addition to arms, the FSA was given ammunition, and air cover by Russian warplanes.

Details on where this aid is actually going are scant, and the FSA consists of scores of independent forces with no real central command. Previously, Russian warplanes had attacked FSA forces near Idlib Province, but that faction is allied with al-Qaeda.

The US State Department confirmed they’d seen reports of Russia supporting the FSA, but said it was “unclear” if they were actually true. They followed by reiterating their complaints that Russia is launching strikes against factions that are not ISIS.

Russia has been trying to get some of the moderate rebel factions, including parts of the FSA, to agree to ally with the Syrian government to fight against ISIS and other Islamist factions. So far they haven’t succeeded, but this could suggest more progress to that end.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.