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Russian Church Leader Defends Moscow's Bombing Campaign In Syria

Russian Patriarch Kirill (left) leads the Orthodox Christmas service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow on January 7, with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in attendance.

The head of Russia's Orthodox Church has backed Moscow's deadly bombing campaign in Syria, describing it as a "defensive war."

In an interview aired on January 7 as the country' marked Orthodox Christmas, Patriarch Kirill sought to justify Russia's military strikes in Syria, saying they were necessary to protect Russia from "terrorism."

"As long as the war is carried out in self-defense, then it is just," Kirill told state-run Rossia 1 television channel.

He said that if terrorist groups were allowed to gain power in Syria, they were likely to bring "misery and distress" to the Russian people.

Moscow launched a bombing campaign in Syria in late September to support embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a long-standing Moscow ally.

The campaign, however, has drawn condemnations from the West and Assad's opponents, who accuse Moscow of bombing moderate opposition groups and also causing mass civilian casualties. Moscow denies the claims.

Russia's Orthodox Church enjoys close ties with the Kremlin.

Kirill also sought to downplay the economic hardship in Russia, saying the situation in the country was "no tragedy."

The Russian economy has been hit hard by Western sanctions and plunging prices for oil, Russia's major export commodity. The sanctions were imposed over Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Based on reporting by Interfax, TASS, and AFP