Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended his decision to provide military assistance to the Syrian government, saying that cooperating with Bashar Assad's regime is necessary in order to defeat ISIS.
Speaking at a meeting of heads of state of former-Soviet nations, Putin also said Russia will continue to provide the Syrian government with the military support it needs.
NPR's Alison Meuse reports from Beirut:
"In recent weeks, hundreds of Russian advisers and technicians have arrived to the coastal province of Latakia. The coastal bastion of regime support is protected by a mountain range; but on the other side, hard-line rebel factions are making gains. Many of those rebel groups are also fighting ISIS.
"U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warns that a Russian military buildup risks confrontation with those rebel groups — and could escalate Syria's civil war even further."
According to The Associated Press, Putin also urged the other countries present at the meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to provide military support to the Syrian government. Despite Western criticisms, Putin has been a steadfast supporter of the Assad regime throughout Syria's years-long civil war, which has killed some 250,000 people and made millions of others into refugees.
Putin said that while Assad is willing to make political changes and "engage a healthy part of the opposition," the AP reports, the priority is focused on "pooling forces in the fight against terror."
"Without an active participation of the Syrian authorities and the military, it would be impossible to expel the terrorists from that country and the region as a whole, and to protect the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Syrian people from destruction," Putin said.
The Russian leader also said that Syrians are fleeing their homeland primarily to escape terrorist atrocities, not because of the ongoing civil war in which Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against his own people. Putin maintained that the flow of refugees would have been worse had Russia not provided support for Syria.
The AP reports: "The Pentagon says that Russia is in the midst of a steady military buildup at an airport in Syria's coastal province of Latakia, indicating Moscow intends to create a forward air operations base there, although no fighter jets or helicopters have arrived yet."
Putin is set to address the United Nations General Assembly later this month for the first time in more than 10 years.