The United States and Russia have agreed on new rules to avoid any confusion or conflict in Syria as both countries lead different coalitions. The Iraqi government also agreed not to ask Russia for help in its airspace.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters that the document “established safety protocols” for both countries “to maintain professional airmanship at all times, use specific communication frequencies and establish a communication line on the ground.”
President Vladimir Putin has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s side since the country’s civil war broke out four years ago. The international community has noted a larger Russian presence in Syria these past few months, which led to a meeting between Putin and President Barack Obama during the UN General Assembly. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter ordered his officials to communicate with Russia to avoid any entanglements.
Russia began airstrikes on Syria the day after meeting with President Obama, taking the U.S. government by surprise. Insiders told the media that Russia was targeting anyone deemed an enemy of Assad, not just the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov justified the attacks to the UN Security Council and pressured other countries to open communication lines.
“On the 30th of September in response to a letter by the President of Syria, the President of Russia asked and received the consent of the Council of Federation for the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said, adding:
We’re referring here exclusively to the operation of the Russian air force to carry out strikes against ISIL positions in Syria. We have informed the authorities in the United States and other members of the coalition created by the Americans of this and are ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure maximally effective fight against the terrorist groups.
No communication emerged from either side, and numerous incidents occurred. Russian warplanes violated Turkey’s airspace at least twice between October 5 and 6. Russia insists both were accidents, but the NATO member warned the Kremlin to be more careful.
“Even if it’s a flying bird, whoever violates Turkish airspace will be subject to the necessary actions,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. “Turkey’s rules of engagement are valid for Syria’s, Russia’s or another country’s warplanes.”
Turkey shot down a drone that flew into its airspace on October 19. The Russian government denied ownership of the drone. The Kremlin took it a step further and accused Turkey of faking the destruction since the images reportedly showed a “poorly-staged informational provocation.”
Russia’s actions caught Iraq’s attention. The lawmakers in Baghdad urged “Russia to launch airstrikes on Islamic State militants in their country, an escalation that would heighten tensions with Washington and increase risks of a clash between the two powers.” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received a promise from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi that neither will ask Russia for help.
“I said it would make it very difficult for us to be able to provide the kind of support you need if the Russians were here conducting operations as well,” explained Dunford. “We can’t conduct operations if the Russians were operating in Iraq right now.”