Commenting on Russia’s military engagement in Syria, the Russian president highlighted the stark difference in the scope of the operations carried out by the US-led coalition and those conducted by the Russian Air Force at the height of Russia’s involvement in the anti-terrorist campaign.
Putin said, at one point, Russian jets carried out “an average 70-120 strikes per day,” while “the entire international coalition led by the United States [conducted] two, three, five strikes per day.”
“There is a difference. Everyone sees it,” Putin noted.
Moscow has repeatedly stated that its primary goal in Syria is to ensure that the jihadists who came to fight for Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) will not return to Russia and employ their battleground experience to carry out attacks.
“Thousands of militants from the former Soviet Union and from today’s Russia are fighting there [in Syria], and they can return to us, and we cannot allow it. All this together led us to the actions that you know about [the anti-terrorist campaign in Syria],” Putin said.
The Russian leader said some 30,000 of the 80,000 terrorists operating in Syria are foreign fighters that come “from 80 countries, including Russia ,” Putin said.
In April, Russia’s National Security Council estimated that some 2,700 Russian citizens from the country’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republics have gone to Syria and Iraq to become jihadist militants.
Nevertheless, talking about the roots of Islamist extremism, Putin argued that “no world religion can be a source of evil.” He also said he believes the “divisions” that are currently “running deep” between Sunnis and Shiites are reconcilable.
“I think they will eventually overcome them,” he told Stone. When asked if Moscow could someday become part of a caliphate, Putin said that Russia “will not allow this to [happen].”