The Pentagon denied Russian Defense Ministry claims that the U.S. and Russia conducted a joint training exercise in the skies over Syria, adding that they did carry out a planned communications test.
At around noon Qatar time, one American warplane conducted a three-minute communications test with one Russian fighter aircraft in the skies over south central Syria, said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement, NBC News reports.
The test was designed to “validate the safety protocols” agreed to by both nations last month.
“The test was conducted. This test was a prudent measure solely to ensure that, in the event coalition aircraft encounter a Russian aircraft during operations in Syria, one of the established and agreed upon modes of communication in the agreement functioned,” stated Davis.
“This test assured that the first time this mode of communication was used would not be during an unplanned encounter,” also said the Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson.
The U.S. and Russian militaries will use the hotline to avoid clashes between the two air forces, noted Davis, adding that the test was successful.
Russian and the American warplanes entered the same “battle space” last month and came within miles of each other, notes BBC.
The test was designed “to train crews and ground services for incidents of dangerous proximity of aircraft,” said an unnamed senior Russian military official quoted by BBC.
Russia began bombing anti-Bashar al-Assad rebels in Syria in late September, after the Assad regime suffered a string of defeats at the hands of opposition forces and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
U.S. military-to-military cooperation with Russia remains on hold because of Moscow’s activities in Crimea, NBC News learned from an anonymous senior American defense official.
Russia now has four military bases in Syria after recently opening a new post in Tiyas near Palmyra, reports NBC News.
“The first base in Latakia remains the main hub for Russian operations in Syria. The second, a forward staging base, opened in Hama,” explains the report. “The third base opened just south of Homs in Shairat.”
Five Russian attack helicopters have been moved to the new base in Tiyas, it adds.
Citing the unnamed U.S. military official, NBC News reports that the location of the new Russian military station is “very significant” given that the “Russians are likely to actually strike ISIS targets from there.”
While Russia lends its support to the Assad regime, the U.S. maintains that the Syrian dictator can have no part in Syria’s political future.
“Earlier on Tuesday the Russian foreign ministry said it was not crucial for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power, saying it was up to the Syrian people to decide,” reports BBC.
Nevertheless, a foreign ministry spokeswoman later said that this did not represent a change of Russia’s position on Assad.
“Absolutely not, we never said that,” said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova when asked if saving Assad was a matter of principle for the Kremlin.
“Earlier on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Moscow was aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian government officials and members of the country’s opposition in Moscow next week,” reports BBC.
Officials from various nations, including Assad ally Iran, met in Vienna for the first time and agreed to renew efforts to end the deadly Syrian civil war. A new round of talks is expected in two weeks.
The multinational group of ministers agreed to ask the United Nations to start a process that could result in a ceasefire and new elections.