MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his forces in Syria to take tough action against any threats, speaking two weeks after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane in the country.
"I order you to act as tough as possible," he told a defence meeting yesterday. "Any targets threatening the Russian grouping or our land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed."
In a thinly veiled threat to Ankara, he added: "I would like to warn those who would once again try to organise some sort of provocations against our servicemen."
Last month, Turkey shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian border, claiming it violated Turkish airspace. After the downing of the jet, Russia introduced economic sanctions against Turkey and beefed up its firepower at its airbase in Syria.
NO ROOM FOR WEAKNESS
I order you to act as tough as possible... Any targets threatening the Russian grouping or our land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, at a defence meeting
Mr Putin's call for a tougher military response is likely to cause concern among monitors, who have repeatedly accused Russia of conducting an indiscriminate bombing campaign and killing civilians in Syria. Mr Putin also claimed Russia was backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with arms in joint operations with regime forces.
"Right now several of its units numbering more than 5,000 people as well as regular forces are conducting an offensive against terrorists in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa," he said. "In addition... we are supporting them (the FSA) from the air as well as the Syrian army, assisting them with weapons, munition and material."
Russia has been carrying out air strikes in the war-ravaged nation at the request of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the end of September. Mr Putin rejected claims that Russia is using the Syrian campaign to showcase its top weapons to the West. "Our actions there are not guided by some unclear abstract geopolitical interests, nor... by a desire to practise and test new weapons systems which is of course important in itself," he said.
"The most important thing is to prevent the threat to Russia itself."
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria now control 70 per cent of Syrian territory, putting their number at 60,000.
And as Russia seeks to counterbalance the influence of Western agencies that have taken a pessimistic line on its crisis-hit economy, it yesterday officially launched its own rating agency. "Upon completion of the state registration of a legal entity, Analytical Credit Rating Agency (Acra) starts its operating activities," an official statement said.
The project by Russia's central bank is an attempt to fight back against the domination of Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch, as Moscow had slammed the decisions by S&P and Moody's to cut Russia's debt rating to "junk" as politicised.
The central bank in Moscow earlier said Russia needs to establish its own rating agency that would be "resistant to geopolitical risks".
The moves came as Russia's economy plunged into recession on the back of Western sanctions over Ukraine and plunging oil prices, and prevented most large investors from holding the debt.