MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday ordered the Russian missile cruiser Moskva, currently in the Mediterranean, to start cooperating with the French military on operations in Syria.
Putin's statement came as Russia's defense minister said its warplanes have fired cruise missiles on militant positions in Syria's Idlib and Aleppo provinces. The Islamic State group has positions in Aleppo province; Idlib has the presence of the Nusra militant group.
Hours earlier, Russia had acknowledged that a terrorist bomb was responsible for the Oct. 31 crash of a Russian airliner that killed all 224 people aboard. IS claimed responsibility for downing the airliner.
The plane crash and the weekend wave of terrorist attacks in Paris clearly have raised Russia's determination to fight IS, although concern remains in the West that its Syria airstrikes are also targeting rebels who are opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad but not affiliated with radical groups.
Putin said a French aircraft carrier task force is to approach the Moskva soon and the cruiser is to "cooperate with them as with allies."
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also told a briefing conducted for Putin on Tuesday that Russian bombers hit Islamic State positions in Raqqa and Der-ez-Zor.
Shoigu said the cruise missiles that hit the Aleppo and Idlib positions were fired from supersonic Tu-160 bombers and from Tu-95s, long-distance turboprop strategic bombers. Some of those long-distance aircraft started their missions from Russian territory, he said.
As Russia's campaign in Syria intensifies, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the United States for pursuing what he said was a contradictory and confusing policy in Syria.
In remarks in a Russian TV documentary shown Tuesday, Lavrov said that analysis of U.S. attacks on Islamic State militants in Syria over the past year indicates that the attacks are sparing the IS units that would pose the most threat to the Syrian army and Assad. The U.S. wants to see Assad removed from power.
Lavrov said this means that Washington is effectively "sitting on two chairs."