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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
November 3, 2015

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Is Russia Really Coordinating With Syrian Rebel Groups While Holding 'Joint Exercises' With US Jets?

The United States is sending a curious aircraft to Syria in order to fight ISIS, a group of F-15Cs which are exclusively effective against other aircraft. Since ISIS has no air force, the only conceivable purpose for these aircraft could be to defend against Russian and Syrian regime aircraft. The Daily Beast reports:

The F-15s the U.S. Air Force is sending to Turkey will be the first American warplanes in the region that are strictly aerial fighters. The other fighters, attack planes and bombers the Pentagon has deployed—including F-22s, F-16s, A-10s and B-1s—carry bombs and air-to-ground missiles and have focused on striking militants on the ground.

In stark contrast, the F-15s only carry air-to-air weaponry, and their pilots train exclusively for shooting down enemy warplanes. It’s worth noting that F-15Cs have never deployed to Afghanistan, nor did they participate in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The war in Syria is different.

The dogfighters are part of a broader escalation of the air war over Syria. In addition to jets in Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates and Navy and Marine planes aboard aircraft carriers, the U.S. Air Force recently added A-10 attack jets and rescue planes and helicopters at Incirlik in Turkey.

Read it here:

U.S. Brings Dogfighters to Counter Russians Over Syria

The U.S. Air Force is deploying to Turkey up to a dozen jet fighters specializing in air-to-air combat-apparently to help protect other U.S. and allied jets from Russia's own warplanes flying over Syria.

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Nov 04, 2015 00:44 (GMT)
Reading this you'd get the impression that there is an unprecedented threat to US aircraft in Syria, yet the Kremlin-operated propaganda outlet Sputnik has a different take on things:

Sputnik reports that, according to the Russian government, Syrian opposition groups are providing intelligence to the Russian air mission:

The Russian Defense Ministry has established contacts with leaders and field commanders of a number of patriotic Syrian opposition groups, which prioritize the country's integrity despite being opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Kartapolov said, adding that Moscow hopes that this would help to resolve the Syrian conflict.

"In the framework of a broader international coalition on the fight against terrorism in the Middle East, we have established contacts with leaders and field commanders of several opposition units. These patriotic groups which, despite fighting government forces for four years, hold the idea of preserving Syria as a united sovereign state, free from ISIL and other terrorists of all sorts, higher than their political ambitions. We hope that this step will become a turning point in the resolution of the Syrian conflict."


Moscow and Washington have started to cooperate in the skies over Syria as Russian and US aircraft have conducted a joint exercise on the actions in case of a near collision over the war-torn country. Russian and US jets have practiced a close approach to a minimally safe distance of 5.5 kilometers, he added.


"In the course of the training, issues of warning, organization of interaction and information exchange between the staffs of the operational groups and control centres of the Russian Air Force at the Hmeymim airbase and the US Strategic Air Operations Center in Qatar as well as the mutual informing of dangerous military activities in the air space of Syria were practiced."

There are two major problems with these claims. The first is that the "joint operation" between Russia and the United States was a mere communications test which lasted for 3 minutes, according to Mashable. Fox News reports:

Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the test involved a U.S. fighter aircraft conducting a "planned communications test with one Russian fighter aircraft per the provisions of the flight safety" agreement between both nations.

"The purpose of the test was to validate the safety protocols established the memorandum of understanding," Davis said. "The test was conducted in the skies of south central Syria and lasted about three minutes. 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. This test assured that the first time this mode of communication was used would not be during an unplanned encounter."

The second issue is that neither Sputnik nor the Russian government has defined which opposition groups with which they are cooperating. There is one clear possibility, however.

The Assad regime has long-recognized a group of opposition political parties, such as the Popular Front for Change and Liberation led by Qadri Jamil, a former member of the Assad regime who now lives in Moscow, which is often criticized by other opposition groups for its close relationship with the Ba'athist government. This group has criticized the Assad regime, but has not been hunted down as other opposition groups and protesters have, and both the armed and peaceful pro-democracy activists who have dominated what the media commonly calls "the opposition" since at least 2011 does not consider party to be part of the true opposition to Bashar al Assad.

In fact, Qadri Jamil is often chosen by the Assad regime to represent the opposition, despite the fact that Jamil was a deputy prime minister in the Assad regime until October 2013, two and a half years after the uprising began, and his organization is not recognized by the Syrian National Coalition, which is widely recognized by the international community as the legitimate voice of the opposition.

Other opposition groups, on the other hand, have widely condemned Russian airstrikes. It's not likely that a any of the major opposition or rebel groups would be cooperating with a government that is dropping bombs on their heads.

-- James Miller