Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that fighting terrorism — and not propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — is Russia’s reason for increased military presence in Syria.

Speaking in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, at a security conference of former Soviet states, Putin said a broad coalition in the Middle East is required to fight the Islamic State, which, he said, has plans to spread to Russia and Europe.

He added a strong Syrian army is required to fight IS in the Middle East, hence Russia’s backing, and, while Assad is open to a political solution to the civil war which has consumed Syria for nearly five years, the international focus must remain on combatting terrorism.

His comments came a day after U.S. officials confirmed Russia is establishing a growing military base near Latakia, Syria. Artillery, tanks, armored vehicles, short-range guided missile equipment and modular housing for 1,500 troops have been transported to the air base, Pentagon officials said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed the military buildup. Russia’s only foreign naval base is also in Syria.

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