Secretary of Defense Ash Carter talked today with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu, in what officials called a “productive” first round of discussion about the coordination of their respective military operations against ISIS in Syria.
The US has been carrying out airstrikes against Syria for over a year now, mostly targeting ISIS. Russia’s role in Syria has been providing military aid to the Assad government, a role they insist isn’t really changing, but which the US is increasingly opposed to.
Russian fighter jets reportedly arrived in Syria today, the latest bolstering of aid amid what is seen as increasing losses by the military in the face of ISIS offensives. The talks are aimed at concerns that US and Russian warplanes would inadvertently clash by being in close proximity.
Russia maintains that their latest aid is purely defensive, and meant to honor preexisting commitments made to the Syrian government. Kremlin officials have raised the possibility of providing more direct military aid if the Syrian government requests it.
Russia’s primary interest in Syria is their naval base at Tartus, the lone Russian base in the Mediterranean Sea. They are thus very interested to ensure that, whatever the post-war results in Syria, they keep a government friendly enough with Russia to ensure the base remains theirs.
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