This is the first Russian military operation beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War.
But the US and its coalition partners have already conducted more than 7,000 air strikes in Syria and Iraq against the so-called Islamic State (IS). And even on the most optimistic assessment their impact has been limited.
IS is contained but in no sense defeated. So why should Russia be able to do any better?
Russia of course is restricting its strikes to Syria. Its initial combat missions suggest that its fundamental aim is to relieve pressure upon President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled forces and that its list of targets will go well beyond those exclusively linked to IS.
But what military capabilities do the Russians actually have? What weapons can they use? How does the Russian air force compare to its Western equivalents? And what ultimately can it achieve?
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