CNN's Matthew Chance is at Hmeymim airbase in Latakia, the heart of Russia's air war in Syria
In 24 hours, 59 combat missions have been flown, killing 320 militants, says Russia Defense Ministry
Russian defense personnel here believe they have made a strong difference in three-month intervention
With relentless regularity, the Russian warplanes take off from Hmeymim airbase in Latakia on northwest Syria’s Mediterranean coast, the staging ground for Russia’s air war against Islamist terror groups fighting for control of Syria.
Several times an hour, the base reverberates with the roar of fighter jets taking off to pound jihadist rebel groups and support the ground forces of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Figures provided by Russia’s Defense Ministry, detailing the activity here over the past 24 hours, give some sense of the intensity of Russia’s air war.
Fifty-nine combat missions. Two hundred and twelve targets struck. Three hundred and twenty ISIS militants killed. And more than 100 oil facilities destroyed.
I’m here for a rare glimpse into the hub of operations for Russia’s nearly three-month-old intervention in Syria.
While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow this week to discuss a potential political solution to this grinding civil war in the long term, it is here that Russia believes it is making a difference on the ground.
And from the Russian defense personnel I’ve spoken to here, they believe that they’re winning.
The results of Russia’s air war speak for themselves, I was told by a defense official earlier today.
Since Russia entered the Syrian conflict at the end of September, in response to a formal request by Syria’s government, they have been able to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIS and other terror groups, particularly the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, the official said.
The progress of such groups in acquiring Syrian territory has been stopped in its tracks by Russia’s air war, the Russians contend.
Compare that to the efforts of the U.S.-led, Western coalition efforts in Syria, which began air strikes in September 2014. During that period, until Russia entered the fray, the territory under the control of such groups grew significantly, they say.
Russia has been accused by the West of unhelpfully targeting moderate rebels opposed to Assad, rather than focusing on Islamist terror groups, in order to configure realities on the ground in Assad’s favor, and thus shore up Russian interests.
Russia’s goals, it seems, are twofold.
Prevent any more of the country falling into the hands of terror groups, which Russia views as a threat to its own security.
And strengthen Assad’s hand – and safeguard Russian interests – should the time for political settlement finally arrive.
Exactly what the endgame will look like remains unclear.
But Russia says its warplanes will be here, continuing their punishing missions, for as long as Assad wants them.
CNN’s Tim Hume contributed to this report.