ISTANBUL -- Russia is launching cruise missiles as part of a coordinated ground and air attack with the Syrian regime, and CBS News correspondent Holly Williams says after four years of deadly civil war, the Russian campaign may be tipping the balance in favor of the regime.
Blasting off from its warships in the Caspian Sea, Russia says its missiles are hitting parts of northern Syria where both ISIS and al Qaeda-linked groups have a heavy presence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said striking targets at a distance of more than 900 miles shows the high qualifications of his country's military
More than a week after it began launching airstrikes in Syria, Russia seems to be reasserting itself as a superpower.
Protected by the Russian air cover, Syrian regime troops have pushed into rebel strongholds in the country's northwest.
"Today the Syrian armed forces started a wide-scale attack aimed at uprooting terrorists' gatherings and liberating the areas and towns which have been suffering of the woes and crimes of terrorism," Syria's Chief of the General Staff of the Army and Armed Forces, Gen. Ali Abdullah Ayoub, said Thursday.
Ayoub said the Russian strikes had "reduced the fighting capacity of the terrorists," without elaborating.
Opposition fighters hit back -- including with what appear to be American-made TOW anti-tank missiles. But they admit it has been the most intense fighting they've seen in months.
The U.S. says Moscow's true motive in Syria is to prop up the regime by targeting its opponents, including the so-called moderate rebels backed by America.
The Syrian war has already claimed more than a quarter of a million lives -- many of them killed by the Assad regime's indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.
But Russia has now seized the initiative in Syria and this coordinated offensive with Assad's forces could be a game changer.
Russia's own military build up in Syria now includes a battalion of ground troops, according to the U.S. ambassador to NATO. That's despite Russian officials' insistence that they will not use ground forces in their operations inside Syria.