The Russian Defense Ministry announced Jan. 23 that its warplanes have flown their first joint combat mission in Syria with US-led aircraft, according to the Associated Press. The ministry said that two jets from the US-led coalition “participated in an anti-ISIS air-strike alongside Russian aircraft.” The Pentagon, however, denied such a mission took place. “The Department of Defense is not coordinating air-strikes with the Russian military in Syria,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon. US Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a coalition spokesman, said the Russian announcement is “propaganda.” However, the new administration of Donald Trump has signalled that it is open to cooperating with Russia in Syria. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that President Trump “would work with any country that shares our interest in defeating ISIS.” (ARA News, FoxtrotAlpha, Jan. 24)
Moscow’s claims came one day after Russian-brokered Syrian peace talks opened in Astana, Kazakhstan. Syrian rebel leaders met for the first time with officials of the Bashar Assad regime. But the talks quickly fell into acrimony, with the Assad delegation denying the legitimacy of the opposition delegration. The regime’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari called the FSA leaders a “terrorist group delegation,” and accused their leader Mohammad Alloush of an “insolent” and “provocative” opening statement. (WP, EA Worldview, Jan. 23)
The Astana talks involve Turkey, the traditional supporter of the Syrian rebels but not the US. Days before they opened, the first joint Russian-Turkish air-srtikes were carried out against ISIS targets in northern Syria.