25 Oct 2015

Russia 'ready to help' Free Syrian Army

3:06 pm on 25 October 2015

Russia says it is ready to help US-backed rebels in Syria in their battle against militant organisations like the Islamic State group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AFP / Ria Novosti

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian air force could support the Free Syrian Army provided the US shared information about rebel positions.

The FSA has so far been among the rebel groups targeted by Russian strikes which have drawn Western criticism.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It has been bombing targets in Syria since last month and said it was primarily hitting IS positions.

But Western powers said most of the air strikes have hit the FSA and other factions backed by the West and Gulf states.

In a TV interview, Mr Lavrov said that the refusal of the US to co-ordinate their anti-terrorism campaign with Russia had been "a big mistake".

The foreign minister said Russia was ready to support the FSA, but was hampered in doing this because the US was refusing to provide information about rebel and IS positions.

He said that a "correct understanding" of developments in war-torn Syria was emerging among Western politicians amid Europe's migrant crisis.

An image grab from a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows a Russian warship launching a cruise missile in the Caspian Sea during a strike against Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

An image from an official video shows a warship launching a cruise missile against IS in Syria. Photo: AFP PHOTO / RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY

Lavrov said the Kremlin wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections, as Moscow intensified its drive to convert its increased clout with Damascus into a political settlement.

The Kremlin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest foreign ally, has spoken broadly about the need for elections in Syria before. But Lavrov's comments were its most specific call for political renewal yet and came just days after a surprise visit by Assad to Moscow.

"External players can not decide anything for the Syrians. We must force them to come up with a plan for their country where the interests of every religious, ethnic and political group will be well protected," said during the interview.

"They need to prepare for both parliamentary and presidential elections."

The interview was recorded before talks on Friday with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna. The transcript was released on Saturday.

Mr Kerry said the talks had been "constructive" and that an expanded round of negotiations could take place next week.

On Thursday, President Putin suggested the Syrian regime could be ready to work with some rebel groups against IS.

Mr Putin said President Assad had agreed to the idea on a recent visit to Moscow.

The US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all supported rebel groups fighting the Syrian government.

Russia backs President Assad, whose visit to Moscow on Tuesday was criticised by the US.