Russian President Vladimir Putin, determined to strengthen his country’s only military outpost in the Middle East, is preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) from inside Syria if the U.S. rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg on Wednesday.
Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for America and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted, according to a person close to the Kremlin and an adviser to the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
Russian diplomacy has shifted into overdrive as Putin seeks to avoid the collapse of the embattled regime of Bashar Al-Assad, a longtime ally of Russia, who’s fighting both a four-and-a-half year civil war and Sunni extremists under the banner of Islamic State.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Putin on Monday, followed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday.
During the meeting with Netanyahu, Putin sought to calm Israeli concerns over the deployment of Russian soldiers in Syria, telling the Israeli Prime Minister his forces would act "responsibly," and noting the Syrian regime was in not fit state to attack Israel.
Putin’s latest proposal, which Russia has communicated to the U.S., calls for a “parallel track” of joint military action accompanied by a political transition away from Assad, a key U.S. demand, according to a third person who spoke to Bloomberg.
The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly on September 28, which may include talks with President Barack Obama, the officials said.
Putin’s military buildup in Syria in recent weeks has alarmed U.S. officials who are still outraged by his annexation of Crimea and support for the insurgency in Ukraine, which prompted the American and European sanctions that have helped push Russia’s economy into recession.
The United States was so concerned about reports of Russia’s buildup that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a total of three times in ten days to discuss the situation.
The U.S. is willing to discuss coordinating strikes to avoid hostile incidents with Russian planes, but America and its allies haven’t received a “concrete” proposal from Moscow and won’t include Assad’s forces in the effort, an official in Washington told Bloomberg, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t respond immediately to a text message seeking comment.
Earlier on Wednesday, it was reported that Russia is building two new military bases on the Syrian coast. The information was based off of private satellite photographs.
The two sites believed to be a weapons storage facility and a military outpost near the city of Lattakia, Assad’s Alawite heartland, and home to a sizable military force.