This is the question that bothers politicians, analysts and journalists. Many scenarios have been put forth 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 suggest that instead of striking ISIS, the Russian Air Force targets moderate Syrian opposition forces 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 up by various maps indicating territories controlled by the sides of the conflict. According to these documents, the Russian air strike zones include the areas under the control of the moderate Syrian opposition.
However, the line between moderate rebels and jihadists is quite blurry. Judging by failures of U.S. vetted and trained militants in Syria, is appears that the U.S. military is not able to tell one from the other.
To get a grip on reality we could use the Internet in order to help us understand what was the target of the Russian Su-24 jet recently downed by a Turkish F-16.
There are online tools that allow us 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 the moderate opposition.
The red square on the map approximately indicates the search area.
My search provided interesting results: I’ve stumbled upon photos of people dressed as jihadists or holding banners of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, etc. The moderate opposition should look somewhat more civilized.
Here is only a small part of the search results:
Jisr al-Shughur area
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.812134 | Longitude: 36.326981
Outskirts of Rabia
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.760889 | Longitude: 36.361313
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.691768 | Longitude: 36.333847
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.724162 | Longitude: 36.288872
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.742026 | Longitude: 36.324062
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.741998 | Longitude: 36.164589
Near Al Janoudiyah
Coordinates: Latitude: 35.883376 | Longitude: 36.295395
I am under the impression that there are two possibilities. First: Russian planes are targeting terrorist groups after all. Second: the moderate opposition is really good at disguising itself as jihadis.