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In veiled threat to Ankara, Putin orders stronger military action against opponents in Syria

In a meeting with defense leaders, Vladimir Putin has called on the military to take a tough stance against threats in Syria. His words were seen as a reference to Ankara, which shot down a Russian plane last month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the military to strengthen its forces and be prepared to respond to any threat as it continues to wage an air campaign in Syria.

"I order you to act in the toughest way," Putin told leaders at a security meeting on Friday. "Any targets threatening the Russian groups of forces or our land infrastructure should be immediately destroyed."

His words were seen as a veiled reference to Turkey, which shot down a Russian jet it claimed had violated its airspace in November. The incident has led to increased friction between the two countries, with Moscow approving a raft of economic sanctions against Ankara and Putin accusing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of supporting the "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group.

Aiding or hindering the fight?

In addition, Putin claimed Russia was backing the Free Syrian Army - the Western-backed rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, whom Putin supports.

In October, the Russian leader said he would assist those rebels by providing them with air support. Many of those rebels rejected the offer.

Russian airstrikes in Syria have raised concerns for many Western and Middle Eastern governments, who claim Moscow is targeting rebels seeking to remove Assad from power. Russia has denied the claims, saying it's targeting IS and other terrorist groups in the region.

blc/jil (AP, AFP)

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