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Russia gives media a look at Syria air operations


HEMEIMEEM AIRBASE, Syria: Since early Thursday morning, Russian combat jets have been taking off from the Hemeimeem Airbase in western Syria, heading out for more of the heavy bombing runs that have allowed Moscow once again to portray itself as a major global player capable of projecting military power far from its borders.

The Russian Defense Ministry flew Moscow-based reporters to the air base overnight, giving a few international news organizations their first inside look at its operations here.

While support crew worked to prepare aircraft for sorties, attaching bombs and missiles, helicopter gunships buzzed around the vicinity of the base to make sure there is no threat of a ground attack.

The trip to the Syrian base was organized Wednesday, the same day the Kremlin announced that Syrian President Bashar Assad had come to Moscow and met with President Vladimir Putin. Assad’s visit on Tuesday was his first known trip abroad since war broke out in 2011 and raised intense speculation about the two leaders’ motives.

In a sign that a diplomatic push is underway, Russia also announced Wednesday that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would meet Friday in Vienna. They will be joined by their counterparts from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both of which are firm Assad critics.

Russia has been conducting daily airstrikes in Syria since Sept. 30 to back a Syrian government offensive. Moscow says it is targeting militants, especially from the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations. The United States and others have criticized the strikes, which they say are


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