U.S. and Russia sign Syria memorandum

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Story highlights

  • The memorandum of understanding includes specific safety protocols for air crews to follow but does not coordinate policy
  • The full text of the memorandum will not be made public at the request of the Russian government

Washington (CNN)Senior officials from the Department of Defense and the Russian Ministry of Defense agreed Tuesday to measures to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between coalition and Russian aircraft operating in Syrian airspace.

The memorandum of understanding, now in effect, "includes specific safety protocols for air crews to follow" but does not coordinate policy between the U.S. and Russia. Russia's airstrikes in Syria are largely aimed at bolstering the regime of close ally President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. wants him to go and its coalition is focused on hitting ISIS targets.
Recently, U.S. and Russian aircraft have flown in close proximity over Syria, and there have been concerns about the safety of pilots given the risk of miscalculation in the tight airspace.
    The memorandum's protocols include maintaining "professional airmanship" at all times, the use of specific communications frequencies and the establishment of a communication line on the ground, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters. "The U.S. and Russia will form a working group to discuss any implementation issues that follow."
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    But a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the U.S.-Russia agreement said it has no specifics on what constitutes a safe distance of separation for U.S. and Russian aircraft flying over Syria. There is no specific language on how many feet or miles the two sides have to stay apart.
    Cook also noted that the memorandum "does not establish zones of cooperation, intelligence sharing or any sharing of target information in Syria."
    The full text of the memorandum will not be made public at the request of the Russian government, Cook said.
    "The discussions through which this MOU was developed do not constitute U.S. cooperation or support for Russia's policy or actions in Syria, in fact far from it," Cook stressed. "We continue to believe that Russia's strategy in Syria is counterproductive and their support for the Assad regime will only make Syria's civil war worse."