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Russia’s interaction with Free Syrian Army to add strength to struggle with IS

December 15, 2015, 20:36 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, December 15. /TASS/. Russia’s interaction with the Free Syrian Army in the war against the terrorist Islamic State will not only add vigor to the struggle against a common enemy, but may promote better understanding between Moscow and the West, Russian analysts believe.

The Free Syrian Army has voiced the readiness to share with Russia its information about the whereabouts of Islamic State militants and other targets worth attacking, FSA General Hussam al-Avak has said. "I am speaking as head of the FSA intelligence services. We have accurate information, documents and images. We can share them with the Russians to make their strikes against the Islamic State more effective," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told a Russian Defense Ministry board meeting last Friday that 5,000 Free Syrian Army troops enjoyed Russian air support in their operations against Islamic State militants. Also, Russia was providing other material supplies for the FSA.

"Our air group contributes to the pooling of efforts by government troops and the Free Syrian Army. Several FSA units having a total strength of 5,000 and also regular troops have been conducting offensive operations against terrorists in Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqah provinces. Also, we support them from the air in the same way we support the Syrian army. We provide weapons, ammunition and material supplies," he said.

The chief of Russia’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, met with foreign military attaches in Moscow on Monday to declare that Russian warplanes were dealing 30-40 strikes a day to support the Free Syrian Army in its offensive operations.

The Free Syrian Army is one of the anti-government groups that has been fighting against President Bashar Assad’s forces, too, senior research fellow at the Arab Studies Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute, Boris Dolgov, has told TASS. "In the West many regard it not as a radical Islamist force, although to my mind there are some Islamist groups in it. It is not a homogenous entity. It is not an army the way we understand it. It is not a military force under unified command. There are former Syrian army servicemen of Kurdish origin, too."

Cooperation with it can be useful, Dolgov said. The civil war in Algeria is an example he believes. "The situation there was very similar. Several armed Islamist groups were fighting against government troops. At a certain point one of them - the Islamic Salvation Army - agreed to have contacts with the government. Later it even fought together with government troops against more radical groups. I believe it would make sense to maintain contacts with the Free Syrian Army, which at a certain phase can act together with the government forces against the Islamic State."

As far as Russia’s relations with the Syrian opposition are concerned, they have a rather long history, the vice-president of the Russian Centre for Strategic and International Studies, chief of the international affairs sector at the Oriental Studies Institute, Irina Zvyagelskaya, told TASS. "International efforts within the framework of the Geneva Accords are on the top of the agenda. Also, there have been special initiatives by Moscow aimed at arranging for a dialogue within the opposition groups. That dialogue, although not an official one, did work. It played a certain role. There is a clear understanding that within the Syrian opposition there are certain forces seeking the restoration of Syrian statehood and victory over terrorism. In fact, the Free Syrian Army belongs with this group of opposition forces. The FSA may well be one of our allies."

Zvyagelskaya recalled that the FSA had invariably enjoyed Western assistance. "In this particular case our support for that organization may improve understanding between Russia and the West regarding Syria. We can try to bring our approaches closer together somehow. The stronger the positions of the FSA among the opposition groups, the better, because there are some rather rational people there. May these people, and not far more radical forces, set the tune in the common delegation."

Zvyagelskaya said that agreeing a list of terrorist groups would be one of the most important issues on the agenda of the Syrian settlement talks. "This is a very complicated issue. There is a great divergence of opinion between Russia, one the one hand, and the Western countries and regional actors, on the other. The organizations we tend to regard as terrorist are not seen as such by others. But, bearing in mind the dangerous nature of the Syrian crisis and the fact that we have a common enemy, it is to be hoped that we will manage to achieve a compromise regarding some organizations."

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