Moscow says it is verifying whether a Russian airstrike in Syria late last month may have killed the leader of the Islamic State group. If confirmed, the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be a huge military coup for Moscow as a key player in Syria’s civil war — in which it has sided with President Bashar Assad’s forces — and strengthen its hand in future peace talks.
It would also highlight the capabilities of Russia’s modernized military, which has tested new precision weapons in the Syrian conflict.
Here are some key moments in Russia’s military campaign in Syria.
A series of major battlefield defeats suffered by Assad’s army in 2015 prompted Moscow to intervene to protect its long-time ally. On August 26, 2015, Russia signed a deal with the Syrian government on deploying an air force contingent and other military assets at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s province of Latakia, the heartland of Assad’s Alawite religious minority.
In a matter of weeks, Russia’s military built up the base so it could host dozens of Russian jets. It delivered thousands of tons of military equipment and supplies by sea and heavy-lift cargo planes in an operation dubbed the “Syrian Express.” On Sept. 30, Moscow declared the launch of its air campaign in Syria — Russia’s first military action outside the former Soviet Union since the federation’s collapse.