A Russian warship and submarine fired cruise missiles near the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, reportedly targeting strongholds of the Islamic State group, the Russian defense ministry said Wednesday.
The statement on the defense ministry’s website said the Russian navy’s Admiral Essen frigate and Krasnodar submarine launched four missiles from the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, though no time or date was given for when this exactly happened.
The targets contained “heavy hardware and manpower of insurgents” that had been “projected from Raqqah,” long considered ISIS’ de facto headquarters.
“All targets have been hit,” according to the defense ministry.
Russia told the United States, Israel, and Turkey about the strikes at the “appropriate time,” the statement said, providing no further details on whether that communication occurred before or after the mission.
“Palmyra is a must-win for Russia,” Andrew Parasiliti, director of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, told VICE News. “Losing Palmyra back to ISIS was a blow for both Russia and Syria; retaking it would show that Moscow and Damascus have maintained some momentum after their victory in Aleppo.”
It’s not the first time that Russians, allied with the Syrian regime, have battled for Palmyra, a city of particular importance because of its cultural significance as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its strategic importance as a geographical focal point of highways connecting cities across Syria and Iraq.
ISIS controlled the city intermittently since 2015 and destroyed numerous historical monuments, including a portion of a second-century Roman theater, according to the Syrian state-run news agency.
When Syrian forces recaptured the city with the help of the Russian air force in March of last year, a Russian orchestra from St. Petersburg performed in the ruins of the theater where ISIS once conducted executions.
Led by an esteemed Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky Symphony Orchestra played classical pieces for Russian military members, journalists, and government officials, according to the BBC.
“We protest against barbarians who destroyed wonderful monuments of world culture,” Gergiev said in a speech before the concert began. “We protest against the execution of people here on this great stage.”
President Vladimir Putin appeared on a massive screen and gave a speech through live video stream. Putin praised Palmyra as a “newly liberated” city and urged for “our entire civilization to rid itself from this terrible evil” of international terrorism.
“The Russian strikes are also a signal to the United States that Russia is a reliable partner in the battle against ISIS,” Parasiliti added.
Russian involvement in the Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year, has proved controversial, the country’s alliance with dictator Bashar Assad often contradicting American efforts.
Despite overwhelming evidence, Russia denied the involvement of the Assad regime as well as its own involvement in a chemical gas attack in April in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed more than 80 people, including women and children.
ISIS has been struggling to maintain ground in Syria after American-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces recaptured key bases in the past six months, including the city of Tabqa in northern Syria.