This is the question that bothers politicians, analysts and journalists of the global media. All sorts of scenarios have arisen, which are mostly driven by the agendas of their creators.
Contrary to the official Russian version, the West and a number of Middle Eastern countries incline to the narrative suggesting that instead of striking ISIS, the Russian Air Force targets moderate Syrian opposition supported by the U.S., Europe, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
As a rule, such claims refer to the statements of opposition leaders and are backed by various maps indicating territories controlled by the sides of the conflict. According to these documents, Russian air strikes zone includes the areas under the control of moderate Syrian opposition.
However, the line between moderate rebels and jihadis is quite blurry. Judging by failures of U.S. vetted and trained militants in Syria, is appears that the U.S. military are not able to tell one from the other.
To get a grip on reality we could use the Internet. That will also help us to understand what was the target of the Russian Su-24 jet recently downed by a Turkish F-16.
There are online tools that allow you to find photos uploaded on social media with certain geotags. I have used one of them to check what photos had appeared in the areas that are considered to be under the control of moderate opposition.
The blue square on the map approximately indicates the search area.
My search gave me pretty interesting results: I’ve stumbled upon lots of photos of people dressed as jihadists or holding banners of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, etc., etc. I believe that moderate opposition should look somewhat more civilized.
Here is only a small part of the search results:
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.812134 | Longitude: 36.326981
Jisr al-Shughur area
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.783173 | Longitude: 36.035843
Outskirts of Rabia town
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.730795 | Longitude: 36.11412
Jabhat al-Nusra flag in the background
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.760889 | Longitude: 36.361313
Near Furaykah village. Jabhat al-Nusra flag in the background
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.691768 | Longitude: 36.333847
Near Al-Zeyarah town. Jabhat al-Nusra flag in the background
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.724162 | Longitude: 36.288872
Near Sirmaniyah village. Jabhat al-Nusra flag in the background
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.700188 | Longitude: 36.120644
Near Mrouniyat village. A man holding Jabhat al-Nusra flag
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.762616 | Longitude: 36.084938
Near Akcabayir village. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra flags in the background.
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.812746 | Longitude: 36.323204
Jisr al-Shughur area. ISIS flag in the background
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.742026 | Longitude: 36.324062
Near Qarqor village
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.741998 | Longitude: 36.164589
Near Kinsabba town. Man in an ISIS headband
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.883376 | Longitude: 36.295395
Near Al Janoudiyah town. jcvJabhat al-Nusra flag in the background
So, I’m now under impression that there are two possibilities. First: Russian planes are targeting terrorist groups after all. Second: moderate opposition is really good at disguising as jihadists.