Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied the reports Thursday that Russian airstrikes' targets included U.S.-backed Syrian rebels, saying the airstrikes only targeted the ISIS group and affiliates, as Russian jets carried out a second day of airstrikes in Syria.
Lavrov said his country and the U.S.-coalition "see eye-to-eye" on the targets of the fight in Syria and that the first military contact between Russia and the U.S. would take place "very, very soon." He added that "we believe that our position is absolutely in line with international law."
Russian President Vladimir Putin also denied reports that civilians were killed in any Russian airstrikes.
"We are ready for such information attacks," he said in a live broadcast from the Kremlin. "The first reports of civilian casualties came even before our jets took off."
Russian jets appeared to be primarily bombing central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to President Bashar Assad's strongholds in the capital Damascus and the coast. The United States and allies fear that Russia, which has backed the Assad family since the current leader's father was in power, is using the air campaign as a pretext to shore up dwindling defenses not go after ISIS.
Lavrov denied that that some Russian airstrikes in Syria were aimed at CIA-backed groups fighting the Assad regime, denying Mccain's allegations.
McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN he "can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against our Free Syrian Army, or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there."
However Lavrov said that no other targets other than the ISIS group were hit by the Russian airstrikes, adding that Russia does not consider the Free Syrian Army as a terrorist group and believes it should be a part of the political transition in Syria.
He also said that Russia does not plan expanding the airstirkes to Iraq, saying "we are not planning to expand our airstrikes to Iraq. We were not invited, we were not asked, and we are polite people, as you know. We do not come if not invited", Lavrov told a press conference at the United Nations.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes in the central province of Hama on Thursday hit locations of the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, as well as the province of Idlib, which is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that include al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The British group said Tajamu Alezzah was also targeted on Wednesday.
Russia's air campaign in support of Syrian government forces began Wednesday in what Putin called a pre-emptive strike against militants. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia was going after IS militants as well as a "list" of other groups.
"These organizations are well known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria," he said Thursday, without specifying.
Hundreds of Muslim Chechens and Central Asian fighters have joined the battles in Syria since the early days of the civil war, and many form the backbone of al-Nusra and ISIS. Some of those Chechen extremists are part of the coalition that controls Idlib.
Putin has said Russia would be fighting "gangs of international terrorists." The Syrian government considers all rebel groups terrorists.
In Paris, Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov insisted that Russian warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same extremists targeted by the U.S. and denied American claims that its military failed to coordinate the airstrikes.
Orlov said the targets were installations for IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, "two terrorist organizations recognized as such."
The U.S. and Russia agree on the need to fight IS but not about what to do with Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against the longtime leader, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions fleeing elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe.
With American and allied airstrikes daily, and now Russian warplanes in the Syrian airspace, the war is taking on a dangerous new dimension.
Orlov said Russian officials warned the Americans "via confidential channels" of where they planned to strike. He also noted a coordination center was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians and any other country that wants to participate.
Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed 36 civilians, with five children among the dead. The claim could not be independently verified.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said it fully supports Russian airstrikes against "terrorist groups" in Syria.
The ministry's spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said the "Islamic Republic of Iran considers military action by Russia against armed terrorist groups to be a step toward fighting terrorism and toward resolving the current crisis" in Syria.
Her statement was carried by the official IRNA news agency.
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