“In the wake of a US missile strike that seriously crippled its air-force,Syria is moving its remaining planes to an airfield adjacent to a Russian airbase. Despite rising tensions with Russia, the US remains committed to preventing further chemical attacks by the Syrian government.” – Israeli News Media April 20, 2017
A memorandum of understanding was signed by President Barack Obama on behalf of the United States and President Vladimir Putin on behalf of the Russians in late October 2015. The memorandum pertains to cooperation in the area of aviation safety during the operations in Syria.
The memorandum contained several procedures aimed at preventing accidents between the Russian Air Force and the US-led coalition air forces. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the agreement is of practical importance since it regulates the movement of manned and unmanned aircraft of the various armies in the skies of Syria. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the US Army undertook to convey the memorandum to the rest of the coalition countries (Russian Ministry of Defense website, October 29, 2015), according to officials at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel.
This is not a common goal of Russia and the US. The goal of America’s involvement in Syria is to fight ISIS and destroy it. The war against the Fateh al-Sham Front (the new name of the former Al-Nusra Front), which cooperates with other rebel organizations, has not been designated as an American goal. The Russians, on the other hand, because of their interest in supporting the Syrian regime, perceive the Al-Nusra Front as an important target in the “war on terrorists” and want to drag the Americans to participate in it.
On April 12, 2017, talks were held in Moscow between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin.The talks were held in light of the tension between the two powers, which was created in Syria following the use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian regime and the attack on the Syrian Air Force base Shayrat by the US.
The talks led to the announcement of the establishment of mechanisms for dialogue and coordination between the US and Russia, which may lead to a reduction in the media attacks between the two countries. However, the basic differences of opinion between the US and Russia regarding Syria remain unchanged.
The use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian regime and the firing of the American cruise missiles in response did not lead to significant changes in the situation on the ground in the various battlefields in Syria: In the area north of Hama, the Syrian regime has recorded an achievement against the rebel organizations, while the rebels have the upper hand in Daraa and the fighting continues in the area east of Damascus. In the meantime, the SDF forces are completing the encirclement of the city of Al-Raqqah and are now preparing for the decisive stage of taking over the city.
In the Old City of Mosul, the fighting is slowly progressing.The Iraqi forces are suffering heavy losses due to ISIS’s fierce resistance. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating in western Mosul, an area with some 400,000 residents. These residents are trapped among the fighting forces. They are suffering from a shortage of food and are prevented from fleeing from the battle zones by ISIS, which perceives them as a human shield.
The talks in Moscow were held in light of the dramatic events in Syria, which began eight days earlier: On April 4, 2017, the Syrian Air Force used chemical weapons (apparently sarin gas) against civilians in the town of Khan Shaykhun.
The attack killed at least one hundred civilians and wounded hundreds of others. In response, on April 7, the United States launched 59 cruise missiles from ships in the Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian Air Force’s Shayrat Airbase (some 31 km south of Homs). The American attack on Shayrat Airbase was the first to be carried out against a target of the Syrian regime since the outbreak of the civil war. It constituted a clear signal to Russia and the enemies of the United States that the new American president does not hesitate to adopt new “rules of the game” in Syria, and that he is liable to do so in other conflict zones as well.
Russia, on its part, sided firmly with its ally Bashar al-Assad, claiming that the Syrian regime was not to blame for the chemical attack on Shayrat, defending Syria at the United Nations Security Council, and demanding the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.
In the talks held by Tillerson in Moscow, a number of pending issues between the US and Russia in various arenas around the world were discussed, but the latest developments in Syria appeared to be the main topic. After the meetings, Tillerson, Lavrov and Putin held a press conference and reported that the dispute remained unresolved after the talks.