Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a coordinated response to the Syrian crisis during a one-day trip to the United Nations this week. He didn’t wait around to get an answer.
Putin’s decision to launch airstrikes Wednesday in the war-torn country caught world leaders still debating a common approach to the conflict off-guard. U.S. officials in Baghdad were asked Wednesday morning to keep their aircraft out of Syrian airspace. France, whose own war planes are working in unison with U.S. jets in targeting Islamic State camps, was given no heads up, according to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Russia’s first military foray in the Middle East in three decades comes on the heels of an inconclusive 90-minute meeting Sept. 28 between Putin and President Barack Obama that laid bare core differences on how to resolve a civil war that has killed 250,000 people and sent millions more fleeing toward Europe.
Russia insists that its initial 8 targets were Islamic State militants, saying its warplanes struck command points, military equipment, arms depots, and warehouses controlled by the terror group. U.S. and European leaders openly questioned whether the attacks were instead taking aim at other opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-time Putin ally. The move also creates the potential for inadvertent military clashes.

Verification Needed

“If this is a part of international action against ISIL, that appalling terrorist death cult outfit, then that is all to the good,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters in Jamaica, using an acronym for the terror group. “If, on the other hand, this is action against the Free Syrian Army in support of Assad the dictator, then obviously that is a retrograde step, but let us see exactly what has happened.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry echoed those comments, saying strikes against Islamic State were welcome but adding that he would have “grave concerns” if Russia strikes areas where Islamic State is not operating. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that could be the case.

Unanimous Approval

“It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces and that is precisely one of the problems with this approach,” Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.
Putin moved fast, taking less than 48 hours from his return to Moscow to win unanimous approval from legislators in the upper house of parliament to use armed forces in Syria. Russia will use its air force -- not ground troops -- and the mission will be for a limited duration, according to Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov.
Putin has been seeking to carve out a bigger role in global affairs. While his actions in Ukraine last year drew international condemnation, he came to New York pushing for a wider alliance to counter Islamic State and Russian introduced to the Security Council on Wednesday a resolution for broader coalition on fighting terrorism.

‘Illusory Quest’

"There was illusory quest for a middle ground that doesn’t exist," said Robert Danin, a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an interview. "Putin wants to come off as a world statesman putting his money where his mouth is."
Kerry said the U.S.-led coalition has conducted nearly 3,000 airstrikes against Islamic State and that the coalition, which includes France, Canada, is "now in position to dramatically accelerate our efforts, this is what we will do."
Carter on Tuesday instructed his staff to open lines of communication with Russia to avoid any clashes between U.S.-led coalition planes and Russian aircraft. U.S. flights over Syria would continue as planned, State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The head of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition, Khaled Khoja, called Russia’s military involvement in the conflict an “invasion” and said in an interview with MSNBC Wednesday it will “demolish” talks on a political resolution.
Putin’s actions drew criticism from an array of high-profile diplomats.
Russia would do better to join the existing U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria than start a second coalition in support of Assad, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CBS news. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said anyone who provided arms to either side in Syria were “only contributing to further misery - and the risk of unintended consequences.”
"In this highly charged situation in Syria there’s a big risk that there will be further misunderstandings between the partners, all of whom are needed to calm the situation," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.