Russian lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to let President Vladimir Putin send Russian troops to Syria. The Kremlin sought to play down the decision, saying it will only use its air force there, not ground troops. Putin has to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the constitution; the last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. The Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, discussed Putin's request for the authorization behind closed doors, which drew criticisms from the opposition. Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin's administration, said after the discussion that the parliament voted unanimously to give the green light to Putin's plea.
Ivanov insisted the use of Moscow's air forces will "support the government Syrian forces in their fight against the Islamic State" group. He added that Russia received a request from President Bashar al-Assad to help and decided to act in order to protect its own country from Islamic militants, not because of "some foreign policy goals or ambitions that our Western partners often accuse us of." Ivanov said thousands of Russians had gone off to fight in Syria so it would be wise for Moscow to "take pre-emptive steps and do it on the distant frontiers instead of facing the issue here and later on." He said the biggest difference between other countries conducting airstrikes in Syria—such as the United States—is that "they do not comply with the international law, but we do." (Read more Russia stories.)