Putin Says France Now Ally in Syria as Russia Steps Up Strikes

Islamic State Fight as Common Cause for U.S., Russia
  • Russian navy should cooperate with French warships, Putin says
  • Air strikes in Syria are intensifying, Russia's Shoigu says

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian naval forces in the Mediterranean to work as allies with French warships in attacking Islamic State targets in Syria as his military stepped up its offensive against the terrorist group.

France has a naval group led by an aircraft carrier heading to the area where Russian vessels are operating, Putin told a naval commander of a warship in the Mediterranean Sea on Tuesday in a live video link shown on Russian state TV. “You need to establish direct contact with the French and work with them as allies,” Putin ordered.

Russia’s military doubled its attacks in Syria on Tuesday, carrying out 34 cruise missile strikes and deploying long-range Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22 bombers from Russian bases to hit Islamic State’s heartland in the Syrian province of Raqqa and other targets, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the same meeting. The bombardment is continuing and Russia planned 127 sorties on 206 targets in the first 24 hours of the new stage of the campaign, he said.

Putin earlier on Tuesday blamed terrorists for the Oct. 31 air crash in Egypt that killed 224 people and vowed to step up military strikes in Syria to punish those who carried out “one of the bloodiest crimes” against Russians. An Islamic State affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula has claimed it blew up the plane in retaliation for Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria against the organization and other militants fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Putin and French President Francois Hollande agreed on greater military cooperation in Syria in a phone call Tuesday, the Kremlin said in an e-mail. Hollande will travel to Moscow Nov. 26 after talks in Washington, D.C. with U.S. President Barack Obama to try to build up a coalition against Islamic State following Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people.

French jets over Syria on Monday night carried out “new air strikes in Raqqa to destroy headquarters and an IS fighters’ camp and we will keep this up,” France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on France Inter radio Tuesday.

Egyptian Minister of Aviation Hossam Kamal said that there is no evidence that the Russian plane was downed by a bomb, Al Arabiya reported Tuesday. The government issued a statement saying it will take the outcome of the Russian investigation into consideration, while repeating its earlier position that all scenarios remain open. 

The government had earlier denied reports that two staff members at Sharm El-Sheikh airport were being investigated for possibly helping plant a bomb on the Russian jet that crashed in Sinai en route from the resort town to St. Petersburg. Authorities have enhanced security in all Egyptian airports, including the review of all screening procedures for passengers and luggage, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement.

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