All aircraft and drone flights over Syria will be regulated through an agreement reached by the United States and Russia, according to statements from the defense departments of both countries. The text of the agreement was not released, as the Russians requested that it not be shared. The conflict in Syria began four years ago as a popular uprising against the Syrian government. Today, the conflict involves nearly a dozen countries fighting a proto-world war.
A United States-led international coalition has been bombing the Islamic State in Syria using airstrikes since September of 2014. Russia began launching its own airstrikes in Syria on three weeks ago. President Vladimir V. Putin says that Russia deployed its military in Syria to prevent the Islamic State threat from spreading beyond the Middle East. There was no effort made to coordinate the strikes with American air operations in the region, leading to several close calls between Russian aircraft and American warplanes.
The incidents showed a need for a set of rules and restrictions aimed at preventing incidents between the Russians and the Americans. The agreement establishes safety protocols to “maintain professional airmanship at all times, use specific communication frequencies and establish a communication line on the ground.” The ground communication line is meant as a backup in case something went wrong with air communications. The agreement also calls for aircraft to maintain a “safe distance” from one another, but does not specify what that distance should be.
The number of aircraft in the air above Syria has increased dramatically, with as many as 30 combat aircraft over the same area simultaneously. Military transport planes, combat aircraft and drones of various size, including attack drones, are all sharing the skies above Syria.
The agreement did not establish guidelines for the sharing of intelligence or target information. Russia had proposed a number of specific measures to deepen Russian-American military cooperation but the agreement was limited to technical military matters. According to a statement from the Pentagon, the agreement does not “constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia’s policy or actions in Syria.”