Russia launches first airstrikes in Syria

Updated 10:15 PM EDT, Wed September 30, 2015
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, meets with officers after military exercises at Donguz range in Orenburg region, about 1300 kilometers (800 miles) southeast of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signaled his intentions to establish a Russian military air base in neighboring Belarus. (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
PHOTO: Alexei Nikolsky/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, meets with officers after military exercises at Donguz range in Orenburg region, about 1300 kilometers (800 miles) southeast of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday signaled his intentions to establish a Russian military air base in neighboring Belarus. (Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Now playing
01:19
John McCain condemns Russian airstrikes in Syria
(L/R): Head of Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service Onno Eichelsheim, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld and British ambassador Peter Wilson attend a press conference of the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) at The Hague, The Netherlands, on October 4, 2018. - Dutch intelligence thwarted a Russian cyber attack targeting the global chemical weapons watchdog in April and expelled four Russian agents, the government said. The Russians set up a car full of electronic equipment in the car park of a hotel next to the Organisation for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons in The Hague in a bid to hack its computer system, it said. (Photo by Bart Maat / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT        (Photo credit should read BART MAAT/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: BART MAAT/AFP/Getty Images
(L/R): Head of Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service Onno Eichelsheim, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld and British ambassador Peter Wilson attend a press conference of the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) at The Hague, The Netherlands, on October 4, 2018. - Dutch intelligence thwarted a Russian cyber attack targeting the global chemical weapons watchdog in April and expelled four Russian agents, the government said. The Russians set up a car full of electronic equipment in the car park of a hotel next to the Organisation for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons in The Hague in a bid to hack its computer system, it said. (Photo by Bart Maat / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo credit should read BART MAAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:11
Russia denies western accusations of attacks
putin response russian spy lon orig bks_00003009.jpg
PHOTO: BBC
putin response russian spy lon orig bks_00003009.jpg
Now playing
01:30
Reporter confronts Putin about spy poisoning
The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats from the country after concluding that the Russian state is responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th.  They will have one week to leave.   "For those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple. You are not welcome here."
PHOTO: Bowtie TV
The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats from the country after concluding that the Russian state is responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th. They will have one week to leave. "For those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple. You are not welcome here."
Now playing
01:08
Theresa May: UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on July 31, 2017. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on July 31, 2017. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:04
Suspected Russian spy worked inside US embassy
 Steven Seagal (R) delivers a press conference with Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias (out of frame), on February 11, 2009, at the presidential residence in San Jose. Seagal and Arias met to talk about the possibility of real estate and film industry investments in Costa Rica. AFP PHOTO/ Mayela LOPEZ (Photo credit should read MAYELA LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MAYELA LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Steven Seagal (R) delivers a press conference with Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias (out of frame), on February 11, 2009, at the presidential residence in San Jose. Seagal and Arias met to talk about the possibility of real estate and film industry investments in Costa Rica. AFP PHOTO/ Mayela LOPEZ (Photo credit should read MAYELA LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:30
Putin appoints Steven Seagal for diplomat job
russia new nuclear weapons putin chance lkl vpx _00002715.jpg
PHOTO: Russian Defense Ministry
russia new nuclear weapons putin chance lkl vpx _00002715.jpg
Now playing
01:09
Russia releases video of new nuclear weapons
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 05:  A police officer stands by a cordon in place at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury after a major incident was declared when a man and woman were exposed to the Novichok nerve agent on July 5, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The couple, named locally as Dawn Sturgess 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45 were taken to Salisbury District Hospital on Saturday and remain there in a critical condition. In March Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were poisoned with the Russian-made Novichok in the town of Salisbury. British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of being behind the attack on the former spy and his daughter, expelling 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
SALISBURY, ENGLAND - JULY 05: A police officer stands by a cordon in place at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Salisbury after a major incident was declared when a man and woman were exposed to the Novichok nerve agent on July 5, 2018 in Salisbury, England. The couple, named locally as Dawn Sturgess 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45 were taken to Salisbury District Hospital on Saturday and remain there in a critical condition. In March Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were poisoned with the Russian-made Novichok in the town of Salisbury. British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of being behind the attack on the former spy and his daughter, expelling 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:02
Russia denies involvement in poisoning attacks
PHOTO: Reuters
Now playing
00:54
May: Nerve agent poisoning deeply disturbing
 A CNN team accessed the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH17) crash site, July 30, 2014 and found evidence that there are still belongings at the site, including pieces of the plane .
PHOTO: Raja Razek/CNN
A CNN team accessed the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 (MH17) crash site, July 30, 2014 and found evidence that there are still belongings at the site, including pieces of the plane .
Now playing
00:49
Investigators: MH17 downed by Russian missile
Yulia Skripal poses for the media during an interview in n London, Wednesday May 23, 2018. Yulia Skripal says recovery has been slow and painful, in first interview since nerve agent poisoning. (Dylan Martinez/Pool via AP)
PHOTO: Dylan Martinez/AP
Yulia Skripal poses for the media during an interview in n London, Wednesday May 23, 2018. Yulia Skripal says recovery has been slow and painful, in first interview since nerve agent poisoning. (Dylan Martinez/Pool via AP)
Now playing
02:34
Daughter of poisoned ex-spy: Lucky to be alive
PHOTO: GOOGLE EARTH
Now playing
01:28
Russia blames Israel for strikes on Syria
PHOTO: CNN PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/GETTY IMAGES
Now playing
02:36
Why Hungary is looking more and more like Russia
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on March 27, 2018. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images
A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on March 27, 2018. (MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:26
Russia retaliates, expels 60 US diplomats
Presidential candidate, President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd during a rally and a concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow on March 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alexander Zemlianichenko        (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Presidential candidate, President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd during a rally and a concert celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow on March 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alexander Zemlianichenko (Photo credit should read ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:35
Russia votes: How the day unfolded
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting with Russian athletes and team members, who will take part in the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Alexey NIKOLSKYALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting with Russian athletes and team members, who will take part in the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Alexey NIKOLSKYALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:47
How do you become president of Russia?

Story highlights

U.S. defense secretary says Russian strikes "will inflame" Syrian war

Carter says "it does appear" the strikes were in areas where ISIS forces likely weren't

Russia says it conducted strikes on eight ISIS targets, including communication and control positions

(CNN) —  

Claiming to target ISIS, Russia conducted its first airstrikes in Syria, while U.S. officials expressed serious doubts Wednesday about what the true intentions behind the move may be.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter countered that claim.

“I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they (Russian airstrikes) were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,” he told reporters. ISIL is an acronym for ISIS.

“The result of this kind of action will inevitably, simply be to inflame the civil war in Syria,” Carter said.

A senior U.S. administration official told CNN’s Elise Labott that a Russian airstrike near the Syrian city of Homs “has no strategic purpose” in terms of combating ISIS, which “shows they are not there to go after ISIL.”

Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported that Russian warplanes had targeted “ISIS dens” in al-Rastan, Talbiseh and Zafaraniya in Homs province; Al-Tilol al-Hmer, in Qunaitra province; Aydoun, a village on the outskirts of the town of Salamiya; Deer Foul, between Hama and Homs; and the outskirts of Salmiya.

According to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 28 people were killed in the strikes, including women and children. The Syrian National Coalition reported that 36 people were killed, all civilians.

The U.S. official said the United States had no intention of preventing the strikes, but that Russian planes didn’t seem to be flying in areas where the United States is operating.

“They are not stupid,” the official said.

Kerry: ‘Grave concerns’

U.S.-led coalition missions were continuing as normal despite an advance warning and request from Russia to stay out of Syrian airspace.

During a statement at the U.N. Security Council meeting on fighting terrorism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We have conducted a number of strikes against ISIL targets in Syria over the past 24 hours including just an hour ago. These strikes will continue.”

Kerry said the U.S.-led coalition had conducted 3,000 airstrikes against ISIS and that efforts would dramatically increase.

He warned that the fight against ISIS should not be confused with support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Moreover, we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al Qaeda affiliated targets are not operating. Strikes of that kind would question Russia’s real intentions – fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime,” he said.

Later, Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, said that military talks between their two countries would happen soon.

“The first instruction to us was to make sure that the military of the United States, the coalition led by the United States on one hand, and the military of the Russian Federation who now engage in some operations in Syria at the request of the Syrian government – get in touch and establish channels of communications to avoid any unintended incidents,” said Lavrov.

A senior U.S. defense official told CNN the Pentagon was “taken aback” by Russia’s actions. “Our Presidents just talked about setting up de-confliction talks and now they just go ahead and do this? They cannot be trusted.”

Another U.S. official said: “This is not how military relations are conducted.”

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook had told reporters that Secretary Carter had directed his staff to “open lines of communication with Russia on de-confliction.” The purpose of discussions would be “to ensure the safety of coalition air crews,” he said.

Russia: Coalition strikes on ISIS illegal

Earlier Wednesday, the upper house of the Russian Parliament gave President Vladimir Putin approval to use the air force in Syria, state media reported.

“The Federation Council unanimously supported the President’s request – 162 votes in favor of granting permission,” Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov said, according to state-run ITAR-Tass news agency.

Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko said that the Assad regime was the only legitimate force fighting ISIS, ITAR-Tass reported. It quoted her as saying that strikes by the U.S-led coalition violated international law as “interference into the territory of a sovereign state can only be carried out on authorization of U.N. Security Council or on request of official legitimate authorities.”

Matviyenko’s comments were echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, ITAR-Tass reported. “As a matter of fact Russia will be the sole country that will be carrying out that operation on the legitimate basis at the request of Syria’s legitimate authorities,” Peskov said.

Lavrov said Russia conducted airstrikes after a request from al-Assad.

Speaking at the start of the U.N. Security Council meeting to combat terrorism, Lavrov said: “On the 30th of September in response to a letter by the President of Syria, the President of Russia asked and received the consent of the Council of Federation for the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the Syrian Arab Republic.”

He continued: “We’re referring here exclusively to the operation of the Russian air force to carry out strikes against ISIL positions in Syria. We have informed the authorities in the United States and other members of the coalition created by the Americans of this and are ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure maximally effective fight against the terrorist groups.”

Israeli officials said Russia had contacted Israeli defense officials prior to conducting its airstrike operation in Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France had not received advance warning and he wanted to be sure Russia did not target opponents of the Assad regime or civilians.

“As far as the strikes themselves are concerned, we have to check that it really was Daesh and terrorist groups that really have been targeted and not opponents to the Syrian regime or the civilian population,” Fabius told reporters, after giving a statement to the Security Council. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “I’m not accusing anybody of anything but we have to check the facts,” he said.

’No Russian boots on the ground’

Putin, speaking at a government meeting, said his country would not become mired in the Syrian conflict.

“This military operation is limited in time. Russian air forces will help Assad’s army while it’s on the offensive mode,” Putin said. “There will be no Russian boots on the ground.”

After several days of Russian familiarization flights, there is no reason they could not begin, the official added. And Russian drones have been collecting potential targeting information in their flights. But the U.S. doesn’t know what the Russians have in mind and when they will make a decision on airstrikes.

Four Russian SU-34 Fullback fighters are now at the Latakia air base, and more than 600 Russian troops are in place.

Russia may be seeking Syria proxy

Russia continues to position itself to potentially launch airstrikes in Syria – but their movements suggest that their targets are something other than ISIS, according to U.S. officials.

“We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into those airfields. We see some very sophisticated air-to-air aircraft going into these airfields. I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require SA15s or SA22s. I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities,” Gen. Phillip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, said on Monday.

“I’m looking at the capabilities and the capacities that are being created and I determine from that what might be their intent. These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL. They’re about something else,” he concluded.

Defense officials have previously told CNN that the United States believes Moscow may fear that al-Assad may not be able to retain power in the war-torn country and wants to be in position to be able to support a proxy should the situation collapse.

Russia is a close ally of al-Assad and may want to bolster him, while the United States has repeatedly called for him to go in order to resolve the five-year civil war.

Meanwhile, America’s own efforts to turn the tide in Syria have faltered once again.

CNN’s Alla Eshchenko, Matthew Chance, Hamdi Alkhshali, Kevin Liptak and Don Melvin contributed to this report.