Story highlights
Russia says it’s coordinating with al-Assad’s regime on its targets for airstrikes
Russia insists it is striking ISIS and other terrorists in Syria; activists say 36 civilians were killed
Skeptics say Russia’s equipment and airstrike placement suggest it’s not after ISIS

Russia stunned the U.S. on Wednesday by giving it just a one-hour heads-up that it was going to pummel ISIS targets. U.S. aircraft should stay out of the way, it said.

The problem, analysts say, is that Russia doesn’t seem to be pounding ISIS targets. Instead, they say Russia appears to be attacking rebels to help crush Syrian dissent and bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Either way, Russia’s new attacks can have big ramifications not just for the Syrian crisis, but for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS.

What does Russia say it’s doing?
Russia said its airstrikes in Syria came at the request of al-Assad. And the Kremlin said it’s coordinating its targets with the Syrian regime.

Russian Defense Ministry said warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions Wednesday, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.
But the targets are limited to ISIS, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian state news agency TASS.
“This operation is aimed at supporting the Syrian armed forces in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group (banned in Russia) and other extremist groups,” Peskov said.
The phrase “other extremist groups” could be critical. Since the beginning of Syria’s four-year civil war, al-Assad has referred to his opponents as “terrorist groups” — well before ISIS became a serious threat in Syria.
That raises the possibility that Russian airstrikes could land on Syrian rebels and civilian dissidents.

Why does the Pentagon doubt Russia’s going after ISIS?
The Russian attacks Wednesday didn’t appear to hit targets under the control of ISIS, which operates in the north and east of the country, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said.
And a senior U.S. administration official said a Russian airstrike near the Syrian city of Homs “has no strategic purpose” in terms of combating ISIS, which “shows they are not there to go after ISIL.”
ISIL is another acronym for the terror group, which is bent on solidifying a caliphate with strict Sharia law across swaths of Iraq and Syria.
The White House took a milder tone on what Russia may be up to.
“I think the Russians have made clear that they’re not interested …Read More