Russia's powerful Orthodox Church says the nation's newly launched air strikes in Syria are no less than a "holy" war to protect innocents against the "tyranny of terrorism."
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the church, says parliamentary approval of the military show-of-force is "consistent with international law, the mentality of our people and the role that our country has always played in the Middle East," International Business Times reports, citing the Interfax news agency.
Russia cannot turn a blind eye to Christians and other minority groups being destroyed in the region, the priest urged, IBTimes reports.
"The fight against terrorism is a holy struggle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world to combat terrorism," the priest said, IBTimes reports.
A senior Muslim cleric also backed the military intervention, saying Syrians are "practically our neighbors."
"We fully back the use of a contingent of Russian armed forces in the battle against international terrorism," said Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia, in comments to RIA Novosti state news agency.
A council representing Russia's main religions — Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism — will release a joint statement on Russia's role in Syria that will "support the decision that was taken by our government," Chaplin added.
Russia conducted its first air strikes
Wednesday on rebel-held areas of Homs, after Putin pushed for a wider alliance to counter ISIS during a meeting with President Barack Obama this week.
"The only correct way to fight international terrorism.... is to act preemptively, to battle and destroy fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already seized, not to wait for them to come to us," Putin said in televised comments.
In an official statement, the Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Kirill said "Russia took a responsible decision to use military forces to protect the Syrian people from the woes brought on by the tyranny of terrorists."
The Patriarch, who often weighs in on political matters in support of the Kremlin, said armed intervention was necessary since "the political process has not led to any noticeable improvement in the lives of innocent people, and they need military protection."
Under the Russian constitution, the president needs parliamentary approval to legally use the military outside of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin asked for that authorization before annexing Crimea in March 2014, IBTimes notes.
Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said the military is set to do battle with Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria at the request of President Bashar al-Assad, IBTimes report
Assad's role in the crisis
is a point of contention between the leaders.
At a speech before the United Nations on Monday, Putin urged the world to stick with the dictator.
"We believe it's a huge mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian authorities, with the government forces, those who are bravely fighting terror face-to-face," Putin said, the Associated Press reports.
But in an interview with CBS News
, Putin ruled out plans for Russia itself to immediately take part in any direct military action in Syria.
"Russia will not participate in any troop operations in the territory of Syria or in any other states," he said. "Well, at least we don't plan on it right now. But we are considering intensifying our work with both President Assad and with our partners in other countries."
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.
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