Russia shows military might in Syria ahead of peace talks
HEMEIMEEM AIR BASE, Syria — Russian warplanes were taking off Wednesday from their base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, which was bustling with activity as Moscow pressed its air blitz days before scheduled peace talks.
A pair of Su-25 jets flew past, returning from a mission shortly after sunrise, and air force crews readied combat jets for more missions. Two heavy transport plans were parked near the main terminal as soldiers toting assault rifles stood guard.
Since Russia launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, its warplanes have flown nearly 6,000 missions. The number is impressive for a compact force comprising just a few dozen warplanes.
The Russian military brought a group of Moscow-based reporters to the base on Wednesday to see the operations.
The Russian military has said it was targeting the Islamic State group and other extremists and has angrily dismissed Western accusations of hitting moderate rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad. Moscow also has rejected claims that its aircraft have hit civilians, saying they only target military facilities away from populated areas.
The Syrian government and the opposition are set to sit down for talks in Geneva, scheduled for Monday. The negotiations are meant to pave the way for a political settlement with a new constitution and elections in a year and a half, but hopes for their success are dim.
International negotiators, including the United States and its allies and Assad’s backers, Russia and Iran, have failed to reach common ground on which of the myriad Syrian militant groups should be considered extremists and fair game for strikes and which should be part of political talks.