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Russia has anti-aircraft missiles in Syria

MOSCOW -- Russia has sent anti-aircraft missiles to Syria in order to safeguard its jets involved in airstrikes against militants in the war-battered Arab country, the commander of the Russian Air Force was quoted as saying Thursday.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters, and other opposition groups, in Syria since the end of September at the request of President Bashar Assad, Russia's long-term ally.

Russian officials have insisted that their military involvement in Syria will be limited to an air force operation.

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Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda that the anti-aircraft missiles are there to project Russian fighter jets from a possible attack or hijack while on mission.

"There can be different emergencies, such as hijacking the jet on the territory of a neighboring country or an attack on it," he said. "We should be prepared for that."

Bondarev did not specify the type nor quantity of missiles Russia provided.

CBS News' Svetlana Berdnikova said the remarks from Bondarev seemed to indicate the weapons were sent into Syria at the same time as the Russian jets and helicopters, earlier this autumn.

Bondarev did say Russia had deployed more than 50 planes and helicopters for "support actions" of the Syrian government army.

"That's as much as we need. More is not necessary," he told the newspaper.

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Russia and Western nations have been engaged in intense diplomatic talks in the past few weeks, aiming to bring about a political settlement in Syria, which has been torn by a civil war since 2011 that has killed 250,000 people and forced millions to flee.

A Russian deputy foreign minister said earlier this week that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week.

He said the Syrian government has agreed to participate but it's unclear which opposition groups might come.

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