MOSCOW — 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 had 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 Wednesday, cutting off its live web broadcast to hold a debate notable for its quickness.

Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks after the discussion that the parliament voted unanimously to give the green light to Putin’s plea. The proposal does not need to go to another legislative body.

Ivanov insisted that Moscow is not going to send ground troops to Syria but will only use its air force “in order to support the government Syrian forces in their fight against the Islamic State” group.

Putin and other officials have said Russia was only providing weapons and training to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army to help it combat the Islamic State group. Recent satellites images, however, have shown giant Russian military cargo planes in Syria, and Russian navy transport vessels have been shuttling back and forth for weeks to ferry troops, weapons and supplies to Syria.

Putin said in a CBS interview earlier this week that Russia won’t take part in any troop operations in Syria.

Worried by the threat of Russian and U.S. jets clashing inadvertently over Syrian skies, Washington agreed to talk to Moscow on how to “deconflict” their military actions. Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter had a 50-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, the first such military-to-military discussion between the two countries in more than a year.

Israel has taken similar precautions, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Moscow last week to agree with Putin on a coordination mechanism to avoid any possible confrontation between Israeli and Russian forces in Syria.

Moscow has always been a top ally for Assad. The war in Syria against his regime, which began in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee the country. It is also the driving force behind the record-breaking number of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe this year.

Ivanov told reporters that Russia decided to help Assad 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.”


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