The US and Russia are finally working together in Syria—but only to prevent dangerous air clashes

Policing the skies.
Policing the skies.
Image: AP Photo/Emrah Gurel
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The US and Russia reached an agreement on Tuesday (Oct. 19) on how to make sure their aircrafts and drones over Syria do not run afoul of each other. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the memorandum of understanding calls for both countries to maintain professional airmanship, use specific radio frequencies, and establish a ground line for communication.

Russian deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov said the memorandum is ”aimed at preventing incidents between the Russian and US aviation,” adding that it has ”important practical significance.” He may well have been talking about a recent incident when a Russian plane came very near to a an unidentified drone, possibly beloning NATO forces:

NATO member Turkey also shot down a suspected Russian drone that crossed into its airspace last week.

Cook said the agreement does not establish intelligence sharing or zones of cooperation between the two countries. It also does not “constitute US cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria,” he said at a news conference, adding that the US believes the strategy that Russia is following in Syria is ”counterproductive.”

The memorandum of understanding comes after weeks of Russian airstrikes in Syria. Moscow claims it is targeting “terrorist” groups, but the US and its allies have complained that they have mostly hit anti-Assad rebel groups, some of which have received US aid, rather than ISIL extremists.