Russian air strikes in Syria to last three-four months: Putin ally

PARIS (Reuters) - Russia estimates its air strike campaign in Syria could last three to four months, the head of the lower house of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee said on Friday. "There is always a risk of being bogged down but in Moscow, we are talking about an operation of three to four months," Alexei Pushkov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, told French radio station Europe 1. He added that the strikes were going to intensify. Pushkov was speaking a few hours before Putin was due to meet leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine in Paris for talks about Ukraine which were likely to be overshadowed by the conflict in Syria. Pushkov said the strikes mainly targeted Islamic State forces in spite of reports they had concentrated on opponents to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. "The opponents to Bashar are very close to Daesh (Islamic State)," Pushkov said. U.S. sources have said the Russians actually hit facilities of a U.S.-backed group, some of whose rebels received training and support from the CIA. Pushkov said the U.S.-led coalition had "pretended" to bomb Islamic State forces for a year. "They pretended... Only 20 percent of their (U.S. led coalition) operations produced results, 80 percent of them did not lead to bombardments, they returned to base for different reasons," Pushkov said. Russia, which launched its first air strikes on Wednesday, has been supporting Assad's regime since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2011. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the crisis on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Monday and agreed to start talks to avert military clashes by parallel air campaigns. Pushkov said there were would be first contacts between U.S. and Russian military officials on Friday to discuss operations in Syria, where the Cold War superpowers are engaged in combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two. Hundreds of Iranian troops have also arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of Assad's government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a sign the civil war is turning still more regional and global in scope. On Friday, Pushkov also said Russian submarines with nuclear missile launching capabilities patrolling the Atlantic were a "response" to NATO's plans to build up its operations in Eastern Europe. "These are the rules of the game.... So this is a response," Pushkov said. (Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Catherine Evans)